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Advertising Age reports on a new survey from Information Resources Inc. (IRI) saying that consumers are likely to be extremely careful about their spending during the upcoming end-of-year holiday season; while actually spending is projected to remain roughly the same as last year, the expectation is that consumers will seek out private label items, hunt relentlessly for bargains, and are more likely to use available cash than credit cards.

Among the revelations in the IRI report:

• “69% plan to spend about the same on holiday meals this year, nearly twice as many (20%) plan to spend less than more (11%).”

• A whopping 91% said they would put private-label foods on the family table, and 51% said they would use private-label products whenever possible -- numbers well above the usual 30% to 35% preference for private label in such polls,” according to Thom Blischok, president-innovation and consulting for IRI.

• 94% of consumers said that spending time with family will be more important than last year, and 80 percent said holiday meals and entertaining would be a higher priority.

• “69% of shoppers saying they're more likely to make lists of needed items and 58% saying they will use newspaper coupons and seek out more in-store deals compared to last year.”

• “About 21% of shoppers plan to shop earlier this year -- mainly to find better deals -- compared to 10% who plan to shop later.”

According to the Ad Age story, “Blischok predicted big-box stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco could be the big winners this year, possibly drawing shoppers from department and specialty stores by convincing consumers they can save enough on food to cross the aisle for gifts.”

KC's View:
It is no shock that things are going to be tougher for retailers this year.

I’m a little surprised that just 10 percent of those surveyed say that they plan to shop later this year, since it would be my expectation that there are going to be a ton of sales and bargains the week before Christmas, especially if things are going as badly as most people think they will. IRI may have a better sense of this than I do. We’ll see.

But while this may be heresy in some quarters, I think it is entirely possible that a Christmas less focused on gifts and “stuff,” and more focused on family and quality time, could be a good thing. It isn’t a matter so much of reduced expectations as shifted expectations.

And, by the way, this could be really good for retailers that decide to market their services and products around celebratory themes.