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Not so merry Christmas: Holiday spending scaled back amid shutdown

The gift-giving season may be muted this year, as Americans, spooked by the government stalemate and ongoing economic weakness, plan to spend less on presents and other holiday preparations, according to the National Retail Federation.

More than 6,000 consumers told the trade group that they will likely spend $737.95 each on gifts, decor and greeting cards -- 2% less than the $752.24 they shelled out last year.

Nearly 80% of shoppers said they intend to spend less overall during the season.

The slide is partly due to old habits dying hard. Americans were trained during the recession and its aftermath to get by on tight budgets. More than half expect the economy to put a dent in their merry-making.

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But the gridlock in Washington isn’t helping. Nearly 3 in 10 respondents told the federation that the shutdown on the hill will affect their holiday spending.

“Though the foundation for solid holiday season growth exists, Americans are questioning the stability of our economy, our government and their own finances,” said National Retail Federation Chief Executive Matthew Shay in a statement.

Though more than half of shoppers plan to treat themselves while they shop the various bargains and discounts, the number will shrink from last year. And the so-called self-gifters will spend less, or $129.62 total.

Americans will parcel out $415.50 on family members, a dip from $423.36 last year. Friends will get $72.14 worth of gifts, while co-workers will receive $23.59 in presents and other miscellaneous recipients (such as pets) can expect $25.63.

The most requested item, for the seventh year in a row? Gift cards.

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Then there’s food and candy, which will eat up $100.35 per shopper. Greeting cards will cost $28.03 total, flowers $21.12. Decorations, a $6.8-billion industry during the holidays, will run $51.60.

Money-saving tactics factor largely into holiday shopping strategies.

Of the more than 4 out of 10 people who will start picking up gifts before Halloween, most say they do it to spread out their budgets across the season. For 36% of respondents, sales and discounts are the most important factor in deciding where to shop.

The average American will conduct 40% of holiday shopping online, where free shipping deals, flash sales and deep discounts run wild. It’s the highest percentage in the survey’s history.

The NRF study, which was conducted right after the government shutdown began, differs from another report this week from research outlet the NPD Group Inc.

The NPD report, which stems from data collected in September, found that most customers plan to spend the same amount or more than they shelled out last year for the holidays.

Fewer Americans said they will spend less.

A third of the 4,000 respondents said they will buy their gifts on sale. And without any hot new must-have items on shelves, the “panic shopping of years past” will be minimized, said NPD analyst Marshal Cohen in a statement.

“But this year’s holiday will be a tricky one for retailers,” Cohen said. “With fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, government distractions, and lack of newness in the marketplace, retailers will have to rely more on promotions to excite the consumer.” 

ALSO:

Retail sales growth 'modest' in September but misses forecasts

J.C. Penney stock up as retailer cites 'solid progress' in turnaround

Howard Schultz's new plan to end the shutdown: a Starbucks petition

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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