Bah Humbug! Shoppers Play Scrooge for the Holidays

Retailers' dreams of a Green Christmas may be dashed by Ebenezer-like shoppers over the holidays, according to new studies from two market research firms, IBISWorld and NPD Group. And while that's bad news for consumer electronics vendors already reeling from a bad economy, it may prove a Festivus Miracle for procrastinating shoppers hoping to find last-minute bargains on a few big-ticket items.

The first bit of glum news is courtesy IBISWorld, which forecasts total gift sales will decline 2.6 percent this holiday season. Electronics purchases are down as recession-scarred gift buyers are feeling a lot less generous.

“This season there won’t be a 'wow' factor in terms of sales,” said IBISWorld Senior Analyst Toon van Beeck in a statement. “Consumers have been so inundated with discounts for more than a year that it will be difficult for retailers to get shoppers excited about holiday promotions.”

Gadgets, including smartphones and media players like the iPod touch, remain hot items, but TVs and computers are proving less popular. One reason is that retailers are offered fewer deep discounts this year--a cost-cutting strategy that severely hurt profits a year ago.

Meanwhile, NPD Group is reporting that total revenue for the week of Black Friday was just over $2.7 billion, down 1.2 percent from the same time last year. Aggressive price-cutting boosted electronics sales as shoppers rushed to buy cheap laptops, netbooks, flat-panel TVs, and camcorders. But the deep discounts took their toll on the retailers' bottom line.

"This year retailers and manufacturers knew it wasn’t going to be about increasing revenue, it needed to be about getting consumers excited to shop and moving those products out of the stores,” said Stephen Baker, NPD’s vice president of industry analysis, in a statement.

So what can shoppers expect for the final two weeks leading up to Christmas? Well, it depends on what what you're looking for.

"Typically, everybody fires their biggest cannon on Black Friday," Baker told PC World. From now until Dec. 25, shoppers are more likely to find big discounts on high-end, expensive products where retailers and manufacturers have more room to cut margins.

Just don't expect to find another HP laptop for $197 deal--unless you're really lucky.

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

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