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Consumers appear to be taking a decidedly un-Grinchlike attitude this holiday season.

Surveys by several researchers indicate consumers will be less frugal and willing to take on more debt this holiday. Apparel and toys will top shopping lists while electronics will continue to come on strong.

Department stores and discounters will be the preferred destinations while specialty stores' popularity continues to grow.

While there's still a large part of the population that remains cautious, a dramatic change to more free spending this holiday season is expected after last year's more restrained shopping, said Gerald Celente, editor of The Trends Journal, Rhinebeck, N.Y.

"Glitz is in as far as buying gifts," said Mr. Celente. "Consumers are not buying down but buying up. People aren't just buying items that serve a function."

CD-ROM units, software, video-games and even a neat toy from the Sharper Image will be among the more non-functional gifts, he said.

In Arthur Andersen & Co.'s survey of 1,050 consumers, 72% said they would spend "the same or more" this holiday (see chart on Page 3).

"Consumers want to buy apparel," said Jay Scansaroli, managing partner for Arthur Andersen's worldwide retail practice. However, strong apparel sales this holiday season will depend on if clothes offered in stores appeal to consumers and if the mild weather subsides, he said.

Kmart Corp.'s holiday strategy illustrates the emphasis on both apparel and toys.

The No. 2 retailer is showing a holiday spot featuring Jaclyn Smith touting her apparel line. Also, Kmart is running a holiday toy promotion called "Toy Mania," featured in a TV spot and the retailer's weekly circulars. The spot was created by Ross Roy Communications, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which this month decided not to participate in a review of Kmart's account.

A focus on the home is one of the trends Mr. Celente has forecast for 1995. He believes this trend will be seen during this year's holiday season with an increase in sales of more home-related products and services.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. picks up on the trend with this year's holiday campaign tagged, "Sears. Where wishes come home for the holidays," created by Ogilvy & Mather, Chicago.

The spots are set to the song, "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays." The lead 60-second spot breaks today, featuring exterior winter shots of beautiful, large homes decorated for the holidays.

Sears hopes to convince customers to shop early and often with a series of 8-11 a.m. sales on select apparel; :15s will promote the events. Sears this year also resurrects its Holiday Wish Book, a glossy catalog going in late November to Sears' "best customers." Industry observers say the mailing will reach 10 million homes.

According to Arthur Andersen, department stores like Sears will attract the largest shopping population. Consumers plan to do 44% of their holiday spending at department stores, 22% in discounters and 10% in speciality stores.

However, in a similar survey by Deloitte & Touche, 57% plan to shop in discounters while 30% chose department stores. Deloitte polled 1,005 consumers 18 and over by phone in October; margin of error was 3 percentage points.

Both surveys, however, agree that speciality stores will see an increase of shoppers this year.

Retailers and consumers will continue to play "cat and mouse" when it comes to getting in stores sooner to shop, said Mr. Celente.

Retailers will again lure consumers with promotions and sales.

Dayton Hudson Corp.'s Target kicks off its nationwide holiday promotion Thanksgiving weekend with "A Time for Magic," using singer Amy Grant for the third year in a row. A :30 from Martin/Williams, Minneapolis, supports.

Target will begin the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving with a two-day sale promoted in a :30 featuring former Chicago Bear Dick Butkus wearing a tutu, created by Peterson Pearson Milla.

Despite how retailers try to rope consumers, "Shoppers will wait as long as they can to get lower prices," Mr. Celente said.

Jeanne Whalen contributed to this story.

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