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NRF Stores/BigReseach: Consumers Slowly Seeking Little Luxuries Again

WASHINGTON - Consumers who have recently been forced to quell their purchases for some of the finer things in life because of the economy's downturn are now slowly quenching their thirst for some of those more discretionary items and/or services again.
     That is what a recent survey, conducted by consumer research firm BigResearch for NRF's Stores Magazine, recently found and published in its February issue.
     Unpredictable economic conditions in 2009 forced many consumers to reevaluate whether their manicures, new handbags and even their cable TV service were worth the expense, NRF said. But with signs of an improving economy throughout 2010, "many were a lot quicker to say ‘hands off' when it came to the things they love."
     Among the key findings of the survey were indications that a few small luxuries, such as casual sit-down dining, department store shopping and even haircuts, have made their way back on the "Untouchable" list after falling victim to the "expendable" list the previous year.
     Stores editor Susan Reda noted that small luxuries such as gourmet coffee, casual dining and even high-end cosmetics were among the things many consumers in a large part of the U.S. "really had to learn to live without." But although most Americans are still quite focused on maintaining a budget, she added, "many are once again falling in love with the things they had to temporarily say good-bye to."
     When it comes to surfing the web and consumer electronics, for example, "millions of Americans simply cannot get enough," as the survey found eight in 10, or 81.5%, in 2010 said their Internet service was untouchable - consistent with what the survey found in both 2009 and 2008. In the category of upgraded mobile devices, nearly twice as many people in 2010 than in 2008 -- 22.9% versus 12.3% -- said their cell phones, smartphones, tablets and eReaders were "untouchable."
     And yet, overall the survey found most Americans are still evaluating their wants versus their needs. Traditional discretionary expenditures such as magazine subscriptions, satellite radio and fi ne dining "are still among those on the chopping block," NRF said. Nine out of 10 (90.0%) in 2010 said fine dining was expendable, the same as 2009 (90.8%), and 85.2% in 2010 agreed they could do without their favorite magazine, same as 85.0% in 2009.
     Additionally, department and discount store shopping for apparel have also become increasingly important for consumers. In 2010, one-quarter (25.2%) of respondents said department store shopping was untouchable, up from the 21.4% who said so in 2009.

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