Top 10 Holiday Trends Show Glimmer of Hope

National Retail Federation says fun and value are on the list

With the dawn of Black Friday—which is now really on Thanksgiving—the holiday shopping rush officially began, and if you’re wondering what’s on shoppers’ minds (and retailers’, too), the National Retail Federation (NRF) has some interesting data for you.

1. Americans don’t think the recession is over. NRF survey data reveal that 61.7% of those doing holiday shopping say the economy will drive how much they spend. While this is down from 65.3%, that’s still a lot of people who will be watching their wallets closely. Of those, 81.5% say they will cut the dollar amount they spend. Others will be on the lookout for sales (54.1%), using coupons (40.6%), or doing their homework online before venturing into those crowded-with-bargains aisles at the store (30.9%).

2. Things are, however, a bit brighter this year. Consumers aren’t just all about practical things, as you will see further down the list.

3. Well-mannered frivolity is in. Shoppers want some fun in their stockings, not just feet. Or maybe that’s stockings that are fun instead of practical. Either way, even though clothing and gift cards still top most people’s lists for Santa, jewelry is now on 13% more lists (23%, vs. only 20.8% in 2009). And personal care/beauty items have also made more lists this year, at 18.2% vs. 17.1% in 2009.

4. While it was all about price last year, this year it’s more about service and quality. Customers have gone from looking myopically at the price tag (43.3% last year; 41.8% this year) to wanting better customer service (5.3%—according to NRF, this is the highest this has ever placed) and better quality merchandise (12.7%). The Internet is playing its part, too, as people are less worried about finding a convenient store location. They just go online instead.

5. People will spend more for a better product. While last year it was all about price, price, price (see No. 4 above), this year people will actually spend more for cashmere over synthetics or a gadget with more features or convenience. Think those single-brew coffeepots and you’re probably on the right track.

6. Younger people are challenging stereotypes. They’re looking for better customer service (10.3%), spending less than older adults, are wary of the economy’s effect on their spending budgets, but are also ready to spend on themselves while they’re out shopping for others. And they’re not getting an early start, but they plan to be exhaustive about it when they do head out for the stores.

7. Younger people aren’t the only ones out shopping for themselves. In fact, 57.1% of survey respondents indicated that they’ll be spending on themselves for some of these holiday bargains. Which shoppers aremost likely to be in search of self-gratification? Young adults 25-34 (70.5%), Southerners (58.6%) and men (58.2%), according to the survey.

8. Men and women (surprise, surprise!) shop differently. Men start later, hope for electronics or sporting goods, and spend more; they’re also more likely to hit department stores. Women start shopping before Halloween, want gift cards, jewelry and things for the house, and are more thrifty in their purchases.

9. Online shoppers will spend much more—24.6% more, in fact. They start earlier and buy more for themselves. And despite the ease of comparison shopping on the Web, they’re no more likely than bricks-and-mortar shoppers to say that sales are the most important draws.

10. More than a quarter of shoppers with smartphones will use those devices to help them do price comparisons, research gifts and find stores. Younger people are more likely to do this (45% of 18–24-year-olds), but indications are that this is only on the rise.

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