The (Penny-Pinching) Holiday Spirit

Do you remember how much you spent last year on holiday presents? In polls that ask respondents whether they’ll spend more or less than they did a year ago, the unstated premise is that people do possess such knowledge — which seems a bit unlikely, given that many can barely recall what they had for breakfast this morning. Still, if surveys find many people saying they’ll spend less than a year ago and few people saying they’ll spend more, that does give some sense of how the shopping season is shaping up. And a study released today by The NPD Group adds to the ranks of forecasts showing consumers will be holiday tightwads this year.

Eleven percent of respondents to the research firm’s survey (fielded in early September, before the worst of the stock-market collapse had occurred) said they intend to spend more this year; 26 percent said they intend to spend less, and the rest said they’ll spend about the same. For comparison’s sake, NPD’s poll on this question last year (which did indeed turn out to be a weak one for holiday sales) found 11 percent of respondents saying “more” and 18 percent saying “less.” The report says consumers this year are especially wary of running up big bills on their credit cards.

Still, people won’t just be putting coal in one another’s stockings. What are they planning to buy? Apparel is the most popular category, cited by 49 percent. Thirty-seven percent said they expect to buy toys. Other leading categories include recorded movies (29 percent), books (27 percent), electronics (ranging from TVs to computers to MP3 players, 23 percent), video games (22 percent), accessories (including bags, small personal accessories, watches, etc., 20 percent), music (20 percent), food (17 percent) and fragrances (17 percent).

So far, 38 percent of the poll’s respondents intend to buy gift cards. But that number is likely to rise as people try and (in some cases) fail to buy actual presents. Forty-nine percent reported buying gift cards last year.