By: MELINDA HUDGINS, firstname.lastname@example.org
The time has come to turn jack-o-lanterns into pumpkin pie – Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and the nation’s biggest shopping day is right behind it.
Some consumers began shopping weeks ago, but for the rest of us, there is still time to procrastinate.
From layaway to steep discounts, retailers are trying every way possible capture shopping dollars. With the National Retail Federation’s estimate of $465.6 billion in holiday sales, that’s quite a bit of money to be had.
NRF is projecting 2011 holiday sales to rise 2.8 percent from last year. Sales in 2010 showed a 5.2 percent increase, but only because spending dropped significantly in 2009.
September was barely over before big box stores displayed an array of Halloween supplies coupled with Thanksgiving and Christmas décor. That’s because about 40 percent of consumers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween, NRF reported. While most retailers do not begin holiday advertising until at least October or November, they recognize that many people like the idea of shopping early to spread out spending over a longer period of time. As a result, many retailers put holiday merchandise on the shelves in September – specifically decorations and greeting cards, which many people buy in advance.
Walmart recently announced it would reinstate its layaway program for two of the season’s most popular gift categories: electronics and toys.
“We’re always looking for ways to ease budget strain for our customers, and we know this holiday season in particular brings with it additional financial pressure,” said Duncan Mac Naughton, chief merchandising officer. “Our layaway program for Christmas, along with our every day low prices and great variety of gifts, will provide a worry-free way for our customers to fulfill their families’ Christmas wish lists.”
Walmart’s Christmas layaway program will enable customers to make payments when they want and for how much they want on the hottest Christmas gifts. Toy and electronic gifts with a retail price of $15 or more will be eligible.
“Our customers told us they want a hassle-free layaway option during the holiday season,” said Mac Naughton. “With our Christmas layaway program, they can focus on what’s important to them during the Christmas season instead of stressing over mandated payments or how to tuck money away for gifts.”
Other stores like K-mart and TJMaxx will continue their layaway programs as usual.
Having learned their lessons with credit cards, many consumers will opt to pay with debit cards or cash. The National Retail Federation shows that in the past decade, consumers’ preferred payment methods have shifted substantially.
“During the economic recession in 2008, many shoppers began to shy away from credit cards and instead transitioned to debit cards and cash – opting to purchase gifts with money already had in their bank accounts to help them budget instead of relying on credit to fund holiday purchases,” NRF reported.
In 2010, the number of consumers who primarily used credit cards to purchase holiday gifts was at the lowest level since 2002. That said, shoppers still managed to spend an average of $718.98 last year, with more than half spent on gifts for family.
So what are shoppers buying?
The popularity of gift cards has grown tremendously in recent years, especially during the holiday seasons.
According to NRF, more than half of holiday shoppers in 2010 said they’d like to receive gift cards – marking four years in a row that gift cards have topped consumers’ holiday wish lists.
Shoppers are also opting for online and mobile shopping. Last year, approximately 44 percent of holiday shoppers made a purchase on the web, and these shoppers are particularly lucrative for retailers. According to an NRF survey conducted by BIGresearch, Americans who shopped online and in stores last holiday season spent 25 percent more than those who shopped in stores only.