With Halloween upon us, we are about to enter the prime US Holiday shopping season. So far, advertising has been subdued. Even without big inventory, we are likely to see significant discounting in the coming months, with sales and promotions dominating.

The bottom line: It is a buyers market.

This time of year, we also will see lots and lots of surveys. On the whole, these tend to be mostly meaningless, if not horrifically wrong. We have seen surveys forecasting 22% holiday sales gains, only to see low single digit improvements. The Media dutifully report these false forecasts, despite the fact that Humans are terrible at forecasting their own behavior. What you primates say versus what you actually do are quite frequently two different things.

Deloitte Consulting did a rather extensive survey of 10,878 consumers from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2 — much broader than the typical surveys we see.

“U.S. shoppers will buy fewer gifts and spend more on items such as clothes, entertaining and home furnishings during the holiday season, according to consulting firm Deloitte LLP.

Fifty-one percent of consumers polled said they hope to spend at least as much as last year during the holiday season, according to a survey to be released today. Fewer presents will be purchased, the study showed. Shoppers plan to cut spending on gifts to $452 from $532 last year and $569 in 2007.

Consumers who have deferred spending on home goods and clothing for themselves will come out to seek bargains, said Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and head of U.S. retail at New York- based Deloitte.”

The most interesting aspect of the survey response to me is the plan to spend more on home goods — perhaps this reflects an acceptance of the changing lack of mobility in residences.  Many underwater or constrained homeowners are realizing they are going to be  stuck where they are for some time to come. Hey, might as well make the best of it.

I am less inclined to agree with Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, who claims consumers are suffering from “frugal fatigue.” After a 50 year credit binge, a season or two of modest spending is hardly exhausting.

The bigger issue is if they are suffering from a surplus of debt and a dearth of credit. Perhaps a better phrase than “frugal fatigue” might be “lack of cash/credit syndrome.”


Holiday shopping seasons from 1993 to 2008

Holiday Sales- Historical Data
Data courtesy of Deloitte Consulting


Holiday Cheer Makes a Comeback
Consumers are warming up to spending, although gift giving is expected to decline
Deloitte, October 28, 2009


Holiday Sales: Historical Data


Shoppers Plan to Buy Fewer Gifts, Spend on Home
Lauren Coleman-Lochner
Bloomberg, October 28, 2009



Holiday Sales Numbers Don’t Add Up (December 1st, 2005)


More Bad Data from the NRF? (November 2006)


Repeat After Me: Spending Surveys Are Meaningless (October 2007)


How Good Were Holiday Sales Really? (January 2008)


Spinning Black Friday Retail Sales (December 1st, 2008)


Category: Consumer Spending, Retail

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

14 Responses to “Entering the Holiday Shopping Season (Beware Surveys!)”

  1. torrie-amos says:

    home goods mean they will buy homes, with another round of tax credits and lower home prices they will all buy homes for christmas, an investment property in every stocking, two cars in every garage, and a pot in every chicken

    in all seriousness are whole family is tired of giving gifts, for the last several years we are gift certificate givers in those little present bags with tissue paper

  2. PithyDog says:

    I would call it:

    “A re-awakening of values”

  3. bet it this way: ““A re-awakening of values””

    ol’ Marshall is a helluva *analyst, can’t tell “frugal fatigue” from “b******t overload”
    file it under “Ripley’s” if one must, but more people are beginning to ask Q: s about: “.. how Obama’s declaration of the national emergency makes him a dictator, and how he hasn’t repealed Bush’s police state laws. He also angers his democrat friends by comparing Obama to Bush.
    and, whether this: “Obama Taking Us On Path To Fascism”, is more than opposition sloganeering..

    as reflected here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/barackobama/6409721/Barack-Obama-sees-worst-poll-rating-drop-in-50-years.html

  4. jc says:

    An early Christmas present for GMAC. Remember the old Ditech ads? Thats where are tax dollars are going, keeping sleazy ops like Ditech going. Essential to the economy LOL


  5. bsneath says:

    My instincts tell me that last year was one of shock but folks still had a fairly normal holiday season. This year, many more are out of work and folks have had enough time to decide to cut way back. It is my plan anyways – got the family conditioned to not expect what they got in the past.

  6. Rikky says:

    i’m having a hard time predicting this holiday season. on one hand i understand what bsneath is saying people are out of work have less net worth, less cash, less credit and high levels of debt so expect sales to be equal if not worse than last year. on the other hand there is something to be said for the emotional component that influences spending during the holidays. for the 80% out there still gainfully employed who have been keeping a tighter rein on their finances all year to pay down debt/built up savings they might let themselves go a little bit because after all they’ve been good boys and girls and frankly they’re a bit tired of penny pinching which is so out of the norm for them and what better time to let it go than during the feel good holidays?

    overall i think we end up a with a holiday season that’s flat to slightly up from last year.

  7. Mannwich says:

    One gift to/from the wife, Secret Santa with relatives, some goodies for the nieces and nephews (one each) and that’s it. We always prefer to save and spend our money on things that we value, like traveling.

  8. HarryWanger says:

    Barry says: “The bottom line: It is a buyers market.” If it is, then it’s going to suck for retailers. Consumers are now conditioned to look for deep discounts. Retailers on the other hand are not going to get burned with excess inventory. They’re discounting power is much more muted this year. Sure, they can mark down less inventory, destroy their margins and be left reeling. The consumer wants last year’s giveaway prices. She/he isn’t going to get them this year.

    Regarding Cohen: That guys is an absolute idiot! Here’s a quote from his “brilliant” analysis yesterday:

    “”Speaking on a conference call hosted by Dow Jones analyst Indexes and STOXX, Marshall Cohen, chief industry of market researcher NPD Group said consumers are getting tired of watching their pennies.

    “Consumers are clearly telling us they are beginning to get tired of saving money,” Cohen said.

    It has been more than a year since the economy started putting the pinch on consumer pocketbooks. Consumers have been trying to get their debt under control, and have pushed up the savings rate to decade-high levels. The holidays may finally give consumers a reason to start spending again.”

    -Is anyone here “tired of saving money” yet? This guy is not only completely out of touch but somewhat insulting as well. There are about twice as many unemployed this year vs. last. They’re not “getting tired of saving”, they’re trying to survive. How moronic can a person be? It absolutely infuriates me!

  9. donna says:

    As long as they buy lots of PS3s and games, I’ll be happy. ;^)

  10. TakBak04 says:

    Folks on NY’s Upper West side scaling back on haircut. Unemployed trying to network doesn’t leave much money for holiday spending this year.

    PBS “American Experience” last night showed how the recession is hitting New Yorkers. Also the hairdresser’s sister who bought at top in FLA figuring she could HELOC to send her daughter to College. Her home is now in trouble and she’s taking in renters….others who have been foreclosed on or lost jobs. These are not low income people…these are Middle and Upper Income…

    Think it’s going to be a glum Holiday for the retailers. It’s not that folks are tired of saving. They just don’t have any money left…maxxed out on credit card because of unemployment or fears of unemployment to come.



    As the U.S. unemployment rate hits a 25-year high and the Dow Jones Industrial Average hits a six-year low, award-winning FRONTLINE producer Ofra Bikel chronicles the recession’s impact on one unlikely American neighborhood — New York’s Upper East Side.

    In Close to Home, Bikel sets up her cameras in the hair salon she’s patronized for 20 years. It’s an intimate space where she has come to know well the surprisingly diverse clientele — from athletic trainers and housewives to high-end bankers, actors and opera singers. Despite expectations that this neighborhood is a secure bastion of privilege, these days, when clients get in the chair, they offer a window into the country in recession: Some are broke, others don’t have a plan, and they’re all looking to commiserate.

    Deborah Boles, the owner and sole hairdresser at Deborah Hair Designs, started the business in 1985. “I wanted a place where people can go and they can feel comfortable,” she says. “They know they belong here.” But it’s all on the line with the current downturn — clients come less often; some skip coloring or skip the trim — and as Deborah watches neighboring businesses go under, she wonders how long she can survive.

    Barbara, Deborah’s sister, helps out at the salon, but she has been struggling with her own economic crisis. After buying a home in Florida at the height of the market, she now has a subprime mortgage that she can no longer afford. Unable to pay the exorbitant interest, she has had to take in four tenants, each with their own stories of foreclosure and unemployment.

  11. Onlooker from Troy says:

    Gee Harry, I’d start responding to you but I never know when you’re going to go back to being the blindly bullish, caricature-like HW of the past, who talked of things in ways that you now call infuriating.

    I don’t know what game you’re playing (or at least, were playing with the bull schtick) but you may now realize that you’re credibility as a “person” has been shot, and folks are not likely to hear you out and have exchanges with you.

    If you’re going to reinvent yourself you may have to come back with a different log in name.

  12. HarryWanger says:

    Onlooker: Never, ever marry a position. I was clear in making my call that there was a change last week and I was opening short positions.

  13. PithyDog says:

    October 28th, 2009 at 8:17 am
    bet it this way: ““A re-awakening of values””

    Not sure what you mean, bet it and add. quotes?

  14. [...] course, as Barry Ritholtz has noted in the past, individual holiday spending surveys need to be taken with a grain of salt. But when so [...]