The Season of Cautious Spending

Citing economic uncertainties, central Kentuckians say they plan to limit gift buying

Lexington, KY – Sure, we saw the tell-tale signs of Christmas in stores right after Labor Day, and Christmas music began

playing non-stop on at least one local radio station the day after Halloween, but the official start of the holiday shopping season is the day after Thanksgiving.

And this will be a longer one, too — 32 days — the longest possible calendar stretch, because Thanksgiving arrives early this year (Nov. 22). This also means there will be five full weekends of shopping in the mix.

The indicators are all there for the marketplace to have a profitable retail season. So, will it be?

“There is the continued high rate of unemployment, fears of job losses, extremely modest wage increases, the depressed housing market and uncertainty in stock prices. Accordingly, I project that holiday retail spending will increase by 3 percent,” said noted economist Anthony Liuzzo of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, is slightly more optimistic, predicting holiday sales will rise 4.1 percent over 2011.

No matter what, retailers had better get it right. This crucial holiday shopping period brings in roughly half a trillion dollars in sales, nearly a fifth of the U.S. annual total.

As they were when Business Lexington surveyed central Kentucky shoppers in 2011, many are cautious about holiday shopping this year. They’re concerned about everything from potential tax hikes to nervousness about their own workplace.

“A little leaner than normal,” predicted Jim, a consumer from Lexington, as he shopped at Hamburg Pavilion. How much holiday buying will he do?

“Probably a lot less; I’ve got a lot of family members, for one. They’re changing management at the company I work at. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next year. Based on the end of the tax cuts and the new health-care bill and everything else that’s coming out, I will pay $4,600 more in taxes.”

Jim also mentioned the economic impact of the damage from Sandy in the Northeast and high gas prices as playing a negative tune on his psyche.

Chris, another shopper from Lexington, will cut back on holiday buying.

“Number one — [My wife] is not working right now. We’re concerned about the economy. Those are the two main reasons,” he said.

His family will also employ another shopping strategy that may not please very many local retailers.

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