SIKESTON -- 'Tis the season to be thrifty. That's the jingle American consumers appear to be singing this holiday season, although some national retailers might refer to it as "being stingy."
From 1990-2000, overall consumer gift spending for people in other households dropped 9.8 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, in September, the National Retail Federation announced they expected 2002 holiday sales (sales in November and December) to increase 4 percent on a year-over-year basis. And last week the Federal Reserves said the economy is slowly gaining strength and should be back on the right track after the recent interest rate cut.
Despite these mixed messages, local merchants remain in good spirits as the holiday season gets under way. And the majority of them expect to know how good or bad their season will be after Thanksgiving -- when holiday shopping is taken to a higher level.
"I'm anticipating a better year this year than last," said Bo's Jewelry and Pawn owner Terri Hurley. "I'm seeing people feeling better and wanting to do more this year."
Last year Americans had a tough time dealing with Sept. 11, Hurley said. It was such an emotional and financial situation for both retailers and consumers, she explained.
Like any retailer, Hurley would love to see record-breaking sales this season, but she's just not sure it will happen. She said she'd rather see the smiling faces of consumers and people enjoying the holidays.
Thanksgiving is when business really picks up, said Susie Kenedy, owner of Susie's Bake Shop and Restaurant.
"They're not out yet," agreed Shirley Kegley, owner of The Accent, about holiday shoppers. "It usually doesn't begin until after Thanksgiving."
Personal Expressions Owner Teresa McGill also said usually holiday business picks up after Thanksgiving, but added that they began wrapping gifts in July. A lot of people like to buy early, she noted.
"We've had a really good season so far," said Lisa Neumeyer, Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores manager. "Our business picked up in early November."
Homestead Electronics manager Missy Goodman said business is normal this year, but it's a little slower than would be expected. "People are still cautious on how they're spending their money, especially with the way things are in the economy," she said.
Goodman could be right on the money because 2002 holiday surveys are finding consumers aren't being too frivolous with their spending.
According to the NRF 2002 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, 62.5 consumers surveyed said they plan to spend the same amount on holiday shopping in 2002 as they did last year. Almost one-third, or 29.5 percent, said they plan to spend less, while only 7.9 percent said they plan to spend more.
These findings are somewhat similar to the results of the Harris Interactive 2002 Holiday shopping season survey for Amazon.com. This survey reveals that 32 percent of Americans plan to spend less this holiday and 15 percent plan to spend more this holiday than last year.
"Even though the economy is in the pits, I still see a difference in shoppers' attitudes," Hurley noted.
In McGill's opinion there's certainly not a decline in business this year, if anything, it might be a little higher than last year.
So what are consumers planning to buy this year if they're not spending as much this holiday season?
Books, CDs, DVDs and video games were the top choice of goods wanted by this year's NRF survey respondents, followed by clothing and fashion accessories, gift cards and certificates, electronics or computer-related items, home decor and jewelry.
Nearly 41 percent of the NRF survey respondents expect to purchase gift certificates this season -- something Kenedy feels might not be a bad idea.
Kenedy agreed she sells a lot of gift certificates and they're a popular gift that can come in any amount for any buyer. She said with a laugh, "You just can't go wrong with a gift certificate."