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Signals are mixed going into the holiday selling season

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NEW YORK — Retailers could face a long, hard slog this holiday sales season as they try to entice shoppers to open their wallets, according to recent surveys.

A survey from personal finance website Bankrate.com finds that Americans are feeling better about the economy and their own finances, but two-thirds are saying they need to save more and spend less.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey finds that average holiday season spending per household will fall to $684 this year from $735 in 2013, primarily because of stagnant income growth and the rising cost of living.

A more optimistic holiday forecast comes from the National Retail Federation (NRF), which nonetheless warns that deals could drive much of this year’s spending.

“Recognizing the need to keep household budgets in line, we expect shoppers will be extremely price sensitive,” comments Matthew Shay, NRF’s president and chief executive officer. “Retailers will respond by differentiating themselves and touting price, value and exclusivity.”

Sales and discounts were listed as the most important factor influencing a decision to shop at a particular retailer during the holidays by three-quarters of those who were polled by NRF.

The NRF survey of about 7,500 consumers foresees the average person spending $804 this holiday season, a 5% increase from 2013.

Overall, NRF predicts holiday sales of $617 billion, which would represent a 4.1% improvement from last year. The forecast is consistent with recent data points on the U.S. economy, which by a number of measures is looking better.

Jobs are being added at the fastest pace since before the Great Recession, and the jobless rate has fallen below 6% for the first time in a half-dozen years. Crude oil prices have declined by 20% since summer, and motorists are paying 14% less at the pump than they were in the spring.

A retail expert at Purdue University also projects a holiday spending increase of 4% from last year’s level and says retailers will have to rely on discounts to attract shoppers.
“Black Friday is now Black November,” remarks Richard Feinberg, a professor of retail management.

“Retailers no longer wait for the Friday after Thanksgiving to launch big door-buster sales. A dollar spent on holiday gifts in the first week in November in a store is a dollar that another retailer cannot get in the third week of November.”

Despite the fact that deals are starting earlier, more people will wait until November to shop this year, NRF says. The trade group sees nearly 41% of shoppers waiting until after Halloween to begin their holiday buying, up from about 39% last year. Among the reasons cited by the 41% who intend to start shopping before Halloween are early deals, sparser crowds and budgeting tactics.

Surveys suggest that shoppers appear ready to stretch their dollars by visiting multiple stores and the Internet to find the best deals.

Mobile devices and social media will play a big role in consumer buying habits this holiday season, according to a survey from MarketLive, a provider of e-commerce ­services.

The survey of 1,000 American adults who own a smartphone and shopped online four or more times in the past year finds that about half of shoppers will make holiday purchases based on referrals from social media platforms, including Facebook.

In the NRF survey, 56% of smartphone owners say they will use the device to help with holiday shopping, and 25% of them say a website or mobile site that’s easy to use is the most important factor in deciding where to shop.


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