There’s Chanukah and there's Santa at my house, so we have a lot of gifting going on – Santa usually ends up with one serious present to the girls (believers, still, so let’s hope they’re not among my loyal readers), while Chanukah is a lot of smaller things, alternating between fun and necessity. I’ve been out and about observing the shopping situation here in western Pennsylvania since prior to Thanksgiving and it’s been slow, no surprise. But just as a recent NRF survey indicated, there seemed to be a late surge with a lot of last minute purchasing going on, if my experiences were at all typical.
Many shoppers heading out the last weekend before Christmas indeed found the stores and malls fuller than they had all week prior. The deals certainly got sweeter too, with online coupons and direct mail flyers pushing more and more discounts as shoppers got down to the wire.Interestingly, my observations and personal experience follow right down the line with NRF’s survey information about what people are buying. Here are some notes to mull over while sipping on the last of your holiday eggnog or eating latkes or whatever edible pleasures your holidays bring:
- Clothing seems to be doing okay (about 48% of shoppers told NRF they’d already bought some), especially as the big retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s, Target, and Old Navy barrage households with even deeper discounts as we get down to the wire. Advertising pays off here, as do loyalty discounts. Most purchases seem to be happening in the discount aisles, away from the frivolous and the "five-minute fashionables."
- Books, cds, dvds, and video games are second at around 40%. Again, preferred customer discounts and email offers seem to be luring people into the big chain bookstores, as both Barnes and Noble and Borders had customers lined up with printed out coupons all this week. People mentioned these items as reasonably priced, perhaps more thoughtful than clothing, and definitely something that didn’t fall into the “necessity,” category, but also didn’t feel frivolous.
- Electronics: sales are down (24%) but there’s a lot of online research going on behind those purchases. Santa’s bringing some small electronic gadgets to our house, since the price of video and digital cameras have gone way down and there are good comparative deals to be had, even if you weren’t willing to risk it all at Circuit City. The electronics clerk at Target mentioned that his customers seemed to be doing less in-store decision-making, ponying up to the counter with the information in hand.
- Gift card sales are way down. Not surprising, given the vast number of store closings that make people nervous about sticking their loved ones with a useless piece of plastic (example: Sharper Image). Even American Express seems shaky to some people nowadays. In our household, a few iTunes cards seemed a safe bet for music teachers and college-age cousins.
- Online Shopping Rules! Everyone I know has bought something from Amazon or eBay this season because of the bargains, lack of crowds, better variety, and good ideas. That’s a first. It’s also more of a topic of discussion, with people trading tips in person and, of course, on social network sites. “When heading online to shop, consumers are increasingly web-savvy in the way they look for bargains: 85 percent of online shoppers use tools or websites to find good deals online… they use price-comparison websites, online-coupon websites, online advertisements, bargain-tracking websites and shopping-themed social networks,” according to the Marketing VOX Web site. Art Technology Group, Inc. claims that close to half of the people they surveyed would shop online for gifts this year, while 44 percent said they still expect to frequent stores.
- Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Watching people's carts, even with all the careful shopping, it's clear that indulgences are still important. I venture to guess that they’ve gotten smaller and more meaningful. Everyone – and I mean everyone except my dad, who likes everything except chocolate – is getting some form of the good stuff this year. From wine-infused bars to hazelnut dark chocolate logs to simple bonbons to, my favorite, the Vosges Bacon Bar – there’s chocolate for everyone. That kind of gelt still, as they say, holds currency.