A glimmer of holiday hope from NRF

WASHINGTON Consumers are a little less concerned about the economy and will be spending a little more freely this holiday season, according to new shopper research from the National Retail Federation that prompted the trade group to reiterate an earlier forecast calling for holiday sales to increase 2.3% to $447 billion. That equates to an average of about $688 per person this year, compared with $682 last year.

“Consumers will still shop with the economy in the back of their minds, but we’re starting to see shoppers take baby steps toward a new normal,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “As Americans open up their wallets for more discretionary gifts like jewelry or take advantage of sales to buy for themselves, retailers will begin to truly believe that the worst may be behind them.”

Shay’s assertions are based on the latest installment of an ongoing series of Consumer Intentions and Actions surveys conducted by BIGresearch on behalf of NRF prior to key seasonal periods such as back-to-school, Halloween or Valentine’s Day. In this case, the holiday 2010 survey asked roughly 8,800 people about their spending and gift-giving intentions and was conducted the week of Oct. 5.

According to the survey, 61.7% of shoppers said the economy will impact their spending. While that is a big number, it is down from last year’s 65.%. In addition, many shoppers said they will compensate by spending less (81.5%), comparison shopping online (30.9%) or with newspapers and circulars (28.1%), shopping for sales (54.1%) or using more coupons (40.6%).

Although the economy continues to impact shoppers, a number of survey results indicated that shoppers may be ready to emerge from their shells this holiday season. As evidence of such a possibility, NRF pointed to survey data which shows influencing factors such as sales, price discounts and everday low prices remained constant with prior years, while the number of people who counted customer service as the most important factor rose from 4.4% last year to 5.3% this year, while shoppers who touted quality as the overriding factor rose from 11.8% to 12.7%.

Small increases to be sure, but perhaps an indicator of a welcome trend for an industry eager to see a resumption of spending on discretionary items.

“Price is paramount during any recession, but when the economy begins to recover other factors take on greater importance,” said Phil Rist, EVP strategic initiatives with BIGresearch. “When shoppers consider other factors like customer service and quality in buying decisions, retailers have the ability to highlight a variety of other features to help their company stand out from the competition.”

As a potential sign that discretionary gifts may become more popular, NRF highlight a statistic showing that 23% of those surveyed will ask for jewelry this year, a substantial inc