Tech Retailers Fear You'll Be Cheap for the Holidays

Break out the Elvis, baby, because the holiday shopping season may be a Blue Christmas for gadget retailers.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, leading electronics vendors such as Best Buy, RadioShack, Sears, and Wal-Mart expect frugal shoppers to buy smaller, cheaper items for the holidays, rather than the big-ticket items they have opted for in better times.

If retailers' fears come true, consumers will opt for netbooks, most of which cost less than $500, rather than pricier, full-featured laptops. They'll choose smaller HDTV sets and barebones Blu-ray players, and hunt for bargains on cutting-edge gear like eBook readers.

"We think budget-conscious shoppers will be looking for great deals this holiday season rather than one big-ticket item," a RadioShack flack told the WSJ.

The Journal's story complements a new study by market research firm Retrevo Pulse, which reports that HDTV customers are more often buying smaller (up to 37-inch) — rather than larger (37- to 50-inch) — flat-panel sets. Several factors may be causing the surge in smaller HDTV sales, Retrevo speculates, including the possibility that the digital TV switchover has prodded consumers to ditch their old analog TVs for new HD sets.

Of course, the New Frugality, if it's indeed a consumer trend and not just a media creation, may be the primary reason behind shoppers' less-is-more philosophy.

If tech consumers continue to tighten their belts, I wonder what impact that attitude might have on sales of the so-called Apple tablet, which will reportedly ship sometime next year. Ongoing rumors claim the mysterious gadget will be a combination media player-eBook reader-Web browser-gaming device, and that it'll likely be pricey for a consumer device. I'm guessing it'll fall somewhere in the $800 range, although a wireless carrier subsidy for a 3G-enabled tablet may knock that down a bit.

Even if cash-strapped consumers think the Apple tablet is cool, will they balk at the price?

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com.

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