Consumer Reports Poll: Tough Economy Forces 69 Percent of Americans to Change Holiday Traditions

With money concerns looming, more than two-thirds (69%) of Americans are changing their family's holiday gift-giving traditions this year, according to Consumer Reports latest Holiday Shopping Poll. Among the changes, 37 percent of families are setting a spending limit for gifts, 14 percent are making homemade gifts, and 6 percent are not exchanging gifts at all.
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YONKERS, N.Y. -- With money concerns looming, more than two-thirds (69%) of Americans are changing their family's holiday gift-giving traditions this year, according to Consumer Reports latest Holiday Shopping Poll.

Among the changes, 37 percent of families are setting a spending limit for gifts, 14 percent are making homemade gifts, and 6 percent are not exchanging gifts at all.

Until now, the pace of holiday shopping was similar to years past, but Consumer Reports latest poll found a significant slowdown in shopping. As of December 7, only 56 percent of consumers have begun their holiday shopping. That is down from 62 percent at this time last year and down more than 10 percentage points from 2006.

The last three weeks of the year could be frantic for many shoppers. Over one-quarter (29%) of consumers do not anticipate finishing their holiday shopping until December 23 or later. One-in-ten shoppers don't anticipate finishing their shopping until the evening of December 24.

"If there's an upside to the sour economic picture, it's that consumers have ample opportunity to score a bargain. Budgets are tight and shoppers are waiting up to the last minute to make sure they've explored every opportunity to find a good deal," said Tod Marks, senior, project editor, Consumer Reports Tightwad Tod Blog.

Finding the Best Deals:
Over one-quarter (26%) of consumers who have started shopping feel the deals are better than last year, compared with 13 percent who feel they are worse. Consistent with last year, the bulk of the shopping traffic is to the mass merchandisers (76%) like Wal-Mart and Target, followed by department stores (54%) and online retailers (48%).

This season shoppers told Consumer Reports they are finding the best deals online. Online retailers (50%) have pulled even with mass merchandisers (49%) this season in terms of where shoppers are finding their best deals.

Holiday Spending: Will it be Cash, Debit, Charge, or Lay-Away?
-- Cash is still the most commonly used form of payment (76%), leading
both debit cards (51%) and credit cards (50%) by a wide margin.
However, the use of credit cards to pay for holiday gifts has jumped 5
percentage points and the use of Debit cards has jumped 11 percentage
points since last year. Also, 7 percent of consumers plan to use
lay-away services this year.
-- While shoppers plan to use credit cards more this season than last
year, the average amount they plan to charge on the card for holiday
gifts has dropped to $682 from $723 a year ago.
-- This season holiday shoppers expect to spend an average of $740, with
21 percent planning to spend $1,000 or more. The biggest spenders are
married men, who plan on spending approximately $998 on gifts.
-- The pressure is on to open store credit cards. Nearly half (48%) of
holiday shoppers told Consumer Reports they were pressured to open a
store card in order to save money on their purchase. Women (52%) and
younger consumers (57%) were the most often pressured.
-- Consumers may want to think twice before opening a store card to save
a few bucks. Among the 8 percent of consumers who opened a card last
holiday season: 46 percent never used the card again, 24 percent
regretted opening the account, and 20 percent incurred high finance
charges or penalties.
-- Consumers are more ambitious this year about paying off holiday debt.
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of credit card users plan to pay of holiday
debt by the end of January, but close to one-quarter (22%) do not plan
to have this year's debt paid until March or later. Last year 53
percent of credit card users paid off their holiday debt by the end of
January. But, nearly one-third (31%) were still paying their bill in
March or later and 13 percent still had not paid off their holiday
debt by six months after the holiday season.
-- Overall, the average number of gifts consumers will purchase this year
remains consistent with last year at 14. Married women still plan to
buy the most gifts at nearly 16, but that is three gifts less than
last season. Men still buy the fewest gifts (12).

Online Shopping rising; Expedited delivery falling
-- Consumer Reports polls found that online sales activity may be rising
in the coming weeks. More than one-third (35%) of holiday shoppers
plan on making one or more online purchases between now and the
holidays. Most (93%) online shoppers will wrap up their online
purchases by December 23, though 6 percent still plan to make
purchases afterwards.
-- While last minute online shopping is increasing, paying for expedited
shipping is growing less popular. This season only 19 percent of
holiday shoppers plan to pay for expedited shipping services --
significantly less than the 31 percent in 2006.

Post Holiday Shopping and Gift Returns
-- According to Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll, December 25 will
not mark the end of the shopping season. The week between Christmas
and New Years will attract 44 percent of consumers to the stores. Post
holiday sales continue to be the biggest draw (83%).
-- Buying gifts for yourself after the holidays is less popular this
year. While two-thirds (66%) of after-holiday shoppers will be
searching for items for themselves, that is down from last season when
over three-quarters (76%) of after-holiday shoppers were buying for
themselves.
-- Nearly one-fifth (19%) of consumers plan on returning some of the
gifts they received. Men (22%) and younger consumers, age 18-34 (29%)
are most likely to have at least one return.
-- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers can identify a "worst gift" giver
on their list: Parents/In-laws (17%) and Friends/Co-workers (16%) top
the complaints as the worst holiday gift givers.

More information on Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll can be found online at www.ConsumerReports.org/tightwadtod.

Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll Methodology
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random-digit-dialing telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. In all, 1,000 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviews took place between December 4 and 7, 2008. The margin of error is +/- 3% points at a confidence level of 95 percent.

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