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Release Date: 10/29/2009

Consumer Reports Poll: 65 Percent of Consumers Expect to Cut Back on Holiday Spending

13.5 Million Americans Still Carry Debt from Last Year’s Holiday Shopping

    The effects of ongoing economic turbulence continue to weigh heavily on the pocketbooks and minds of shoppers as the 2009 holiday season approaches. According to a new Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, 65 percent of Americans plan to cut back on overall holiday expenses such as gifts, travel, and entertaining.  The full results of this latest poll are available at www.ConsumerReports.org.

The anticipated decrease in spending comes on top of already dramatic cutbacks that occurred last year.  In the 2008 Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, 76 percent of those surveyed said they were scaling back on holiday spending.

The projected decrease in spending is likely to be felt in almost every category. Those surveyed said they’re cutting back on purchases of clothing and electronics (still the biggest seasonal gift categories), as well as other items such as gift cards, monetary presents, and jewelry.

Consistent with 2008’s findings, Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll also found that some consumers are still saddled with leftover holiday debt. Six percent of Americans—some 13.5 million consumers—continue to carry debt from last winter’s holiday season.

 “This year, it all comes down to value and getting the best bang for your shopping dollar,” said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert. “We’ve already seen aggressive discounts that make it seem more like November 28 rather than October 28, but retailers are getting more sophisticated about targeting their promotions to their best customers.”

Additional findings from the Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll include:

The Gift List: Who’s In? Who’s Out?
  • Among consumers scaling back on gifts, most (78%) were willing to cut back on buying for themselves, followed by friends and their families, other family members, coworkers,  and service providers like delivery personnel and fitness trainers. Among those most likely to be spared from the budgetary axe: Grandparents, grandchildren, kids under 18, and the family pet.
A Few Favorite Things
  • Despite the gloomy outlook sales of certain products – notably desktop, laptop, and netbook computers, cell phones and smart phones, video game systems, and GPS systems – are expected to at least hold their own, according to our poll.
Hitting the Stores
  • Similar to the past two holiday shopping seasons, the 2009 holiday shopping season has begun with about a third of consumers reporting that they have started their shopping as of mid-October.
  • Only about half (46%) of consumers anticipate they will be done buying gifts by the second week in December. Approximately 18 percent say they will push their holiday shopping right up to December 24th. About 4 percent of consumers don’t plan to complete their shopping until after the holidays.
Sticking to a Budget or Not?
  • This year, half (50%) of Americans will be making a budget for their holiday purchases, yet sticking to it is bound to be a challenge.  Of the 38 percent of consumers who made a budget last year, 44 percent reported that they exceeded it; five percent said they went way over budget.
Most (& Least) Wanted Gifts
  • Clothing remains the biggest category, and 52 percent of consumers plan to give apparel as a gift.  But you might want to choose carefully. Thirty-seven percent of recipients – particularly men – cited clothes as their biggest gift disappointment of 2008. Socks were still the single most hated item, but shirts, sweaters, slippers, and ties, made the list, too. 
  • Electronics gear also ranks among the most desirable gifts for both men and women, and 51 percent of respondents plan on giving recipients items such as video games or accessories, digital cameras, headphones, or other gadgets.
  • Other gifts consumers plan on giving this season include gift cards (46%), followed by money (44%), toys (42%), DVDs (31%), food or wine (28%), jewelry (26%) and pet toys (19%).
Especially For You?

Tis’ the season to give and receive and to re-gift what you’ve received. According to the poll, 36 percent of adults have given a gift they have received from someone else to another person as a holiday gift.  That’s up from 31 percent in 2008.

The Perils of Gift Cards

  • Despite their drawbacks – fees, expiration dates, and the like – many people plan on buying gift cards (46%) and many want them (15%) as well. During the 2008 holidays, about half of adults received a gift card, but one in four hadn’t redeemed at least one of the cards as of this month. 
  • Sixty-five percent of adults who received a gift card in 2008 typically spend more than the value of the card, up from 58 percent in 2007.  Forty-one percent of those who have unused gift cards from last year said that they hadn’t found anything they wanted to buy.  This year, lack of time was less of a factor in not redeeming gift cards; only 37 percent of respondents reporting that they hadn’t had time to redeem their cards, down from 54 percent last year.
Happy Holidays
  • Despite continued cutbacks, a majority (87%) of adults remain hopeful that their holiday season will be as happy or even happier than last year.
Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll Methodology
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households.  1,000 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+.  Interviewing took place over October 15-18, 2009.  The margin of error is +/- 3% points at a 95% confidence level
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