Changes in attitude

Consumer attitudes seem to be different this holiday shopping season. Some possible factors.

Shoppers want deals: Stores slashed prices during the recession to attract strapped shoppers and to better compete with online retailers. But shoppers got used to the deals and now won't buy without them. The constant discounting has blunted the "wow" factor of sales.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects spending in November and December to rise 3.9% to $602.1 billion. To get there, analysts say retailers will need to discount heavily, which eats away profits.

Shoppers are scutinizing purchases: The recession showed Americans they could make do with less. And in the economic recovery, many have maintained that frugality.

So whereas in a better economy, Americans would make both big and small purchases, in this economy they're being more thoughtful.

The edge goes to big-ticket items, partly because shoppers want to take advantage of low interest rates. And since many paid down debt, they're more comfortable using credit again for such purchases.

Shoppers were mad about Thanksgiving: More than a dozen chains opened on Thanksgiving this year. That didn't sit well with some shoppers who viewed it as an encroachment on family time. Some decided to forgo shopping that day completely.

Some analysts say stores will need to redefine Thanksgiving as a family tradition beyond a sitdown meal to make more shoppers comfortable.

Source: AP

NEW YORK - Many Americans are watching the annual holiday spending ritual from the sidelines this year.

Money is still tight for some. Others are fed up with commercialism of the holidays. Still others are waiting for bigger bargains.

And people like Lark-Marie Anton Menchini are more thoughtful about their purchases. The New York public relations executive says in the past she'd buy her children up to eight Christmas gifts each, but this year they're getting three apiece. The leftover money is going toward their college savings.

"We told them Santa is ... being very conscious of how many gifts he puts on his sleigh," Menchini, 36, says.

Despite an improving economy, most workers are not seeing meaningful wage increases. And those who can splurge say the brash commercialism around the holidays - many more stores are opening for business on Thanksgiving - is a turnoff.

But perhaps the biggest factor is that shoppers are less motivated than ever by holiday sales. Since the Great Recession, retailers have been dangling more discounts throughout the year, so Americans have learned to hold out for even deeper holiday savings on clothes, electronics and more. To stay competitive and boost sales, retailers are slashing prices further during their busiest season of the year, which is cutting into their own profit margins.

There aren't reliable figures on how many people plan to shop during the holidays. But early data points to a shift in holiday spending.

The National Retail Federation estimates that sales during the start to the official start to season - the four-day weekend that began on Thanksgiving Day - dropped 2.9 percent from last year to $57.4 billion. That would mark the first decline in the seven years the trade group has tracked spending.

And during the week afterward - which ended on Sunday - sales fell another 2.9 percent compared with a year ago, according to data tracker ShopperTrak, which did not give dollar amounts. Meanwhile, the number of shoppers in stores plunged nearly 22 percent.

The numbers are sobering for retailers, which depend on making up to 40 percent of their revenue in the last two months of the year. They suggest shifts in the attitudes of U.S. shoppers that could force stores to reshape their strategies.