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Holiday Spending in the Final Stretch

While holiday spending in November and early December remained solid, the National Retail Federation's researcher last week noted that its confidence numbers for December were the worst the organization had seen in five years.

“The consumers are under stress,” said Phil Rist, vp of strategy for the Columbus, Ohio-based agency BigResearch.

BigResearch, which polls more than 7,000 consumers monthly, did say however that December confidence numbers were consistent with November — which proved to be a healthy shopping month.

Going into 2008, Rist said, consumers will be more focused on practicality, with 35.6% planning to pay down debt during the first quarter of the new year. Rist expects the spending fallout to impact moderate businesses.

Looking at the final 12 days of holiday shopping, Rist on Dec. 13 presented research about the top three gift categories consumers plan to purchase: apparel 57.7%, entertainment/books/music, 57.1%, and gift cards 56.6%.

“The gift card juggernaut just continues,” said Rist, who said cards have become so popular because they put the recipient in charge.

Gift cards have also allowed businesses that are not traditionally holiday merchandisers to grab a share of holiday money, he said. Indeed, while 38% of consumers plan to purchase department store gift cards — the leading gift card category — 27% plan to purchase restaurant gift cards.

Only 15% of consumers plan to purchase discount store gift cards — No. 5 on the gift card list. Home improvement store gift cards came in at No. 10, and home furnishings stores did not make the top 10 list for gift cards.

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