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Holiday Gifts Return to Traditional

As sure as the holiday shopping season rolls around each fall, so do the surveys, promotions, and wild-and-crazy gift ideas. Holiday 2006 is no different — and even with recent downturns in the housing market, there may be good news for home textiles vendors.

Gift-giving consumers are projected to spend an average of more than $1,000 each during holiday 2006, according to recent Gift Tracker research by Stevens, Pa.-based Unity Marketing (UM).

Consumer trend analyst Pamela Danziger, UM president, said, “Last year nearly 40% of gifters went over their budget for holiday gift purchases. We expect the same pattern to emerge this year.”

Another survey pegged shoppers' average holiday expenditure at $728. In its Annual Holiday Survey, the Port Washington, N.Y. – based retail research firm NPD Group said this would represent an increase from the 2005 average of $681.

The NPD survey indicated that consumers will focus more on “traditional” gift items, which could translate to some increase in purchasing clothing and toys — and less spent on electronics. “This season will be marked by the return of shoppers to the 'tried and true' gift items,” said NPD chief industry analyst Marshall Cohen.

Of particular import to home textiles retailers, Cohen asserted, “Despite recent economic news about falling home values, I think consumers will look to 'feather their nests' this season.” He said, “Everything from small decorative items to small and large domestic appliances will contribute to growth in this area.”

Gift Tracker results agreed that the “nesting” influence will be strong this season. The survey highlighted three areas where consumers have indicated above-average interest: gift-certificate-plus-gift; something from the food, wine, spirits, and candies area; and small indulgences ranging from bath and body items to other home products.

While $1,000 – or even $728 — may seem like plenty to many consumers, it is not exactly sky-high for all. And while Neiman Marcus may be offering a space-tourist flight in its 2006 Christmas Book, warehouser Sam's Club has a bauble of its own for the well-heeled high flier: a Cessna Citation Mustang Jet for $2,734,600 – a model that is sold out until 2009.

Another “Once-In-A-Lifetime” gift package from Sam's features four tickets to the Super Bowl in Miami plus a reception with football legend Dan Marino, for $71,000. A third package offers a London trip and an evening with entertainer Tony Bennett, for $44,000.

The packages are available exclusively to Sam's Club Business, Advantage or Plus members and go on sale at www.samsclub.com the week of Nov. 1. This is the third year of Sam's special holiday program.

Not to be outdone in the initiative department, e-tailers are more active than ever.

Online merchants are unleashing holiday promotions early this year, according to a survey done by BizRate Research for the Shop.org division of the Washington-based National Retail Federation (NRF).

The eHoliday Mood Survey of multichannel (“brick and click”) retailers found that 39% plan to start their holiday marketing earlier this year than last, and 62% will begin promotions by Nov. 4. This trend is in proportion to consumer preferences, as the survey found one in 5 online shoppers plans to shop for holiday gifts earlier this year and 35% will start their shopping by Halloween.

One form of direct-to-consumer promotion is built on fulfillment: the survey said 83% of online retailers will offer free or discounted shipping, up from 64% two years ago.

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