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Less than a week before the official beginning of the end-of-year holiday shopping season, The Conference Board has published a new report saying that it almost certainly is going to be a blue Christmas for retailers, as consumers plan to spend significantly less on presents this year than a year ago.

According to the report, “US households are expected to spend an average of $418 on gifts during the holiday season, down from last year’s estimate of $471 … Only 27 percent of all households intend to spend $500 or more on Christmas gifts, down from 33 percent last year. Thirty-seven percent plan to spend $200-$500, and 35 percent are planning to spend less than $200.”

Other points made in the study:

• “Households headed by individuals 65 and over intend to spend the most this season, with a $469 average spending budget. Households headed by those aged 35-44 intend to spend $419 on gifts. Households whose incomes top $50,000 intend to spend $551 for Christmas gifts.”

• “The top Christmas spenders will be East North Central households (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin) who intend to spend an average of $550. Lowest Christmas spending will be in the West South Central region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas) where consumers intend to spend an average of $330 on Christmas gifts.”

As for holiday shopping on the Internet:

• It is projected that “39 percent of all consumers will buy Christmas gifts on the Internet. Books top the list of online Christmas buying, with 38 percent saying they will buy books as gifts. Toys and games came in second with 36 percent of consumers intending to purchase these gifts online. Apparel and footwear rank third as online Christmas buying choices, followed by movie videos and DVDs.”

• “Of the 41 percent who said they purchased Christmas gifts last year on the Internet, 94 percent said they were satisfied with their online buying experience.”

KC's View:
At the risk of sounding like a greeting card, I really do think that we have to view the dramatic change in economic circumstances as a real opportunity to focus on the important stuff, and pay less attention to the more commercial aspects of the season. In our household, there will be six days spent together as a complete family, something that is rare with both sons off at college and the eldest having pretty much moved his life to Chicago.

The supermarket industry ought to take advantage of the moment, and market to families that will be looking for the silver lining of the economic hard times.