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Brace Yourself for a Below-Average Christmas

Brace Yourself for a Below-Average Christmas
Image credit: Jim Lukach | Flickr
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Retailers should brace themselves for a blue Christmas.

Gallup released its November expectations for the Christmas season and there was a bit of good news. U.S. adults plan to spend an average of $720 on gifts this year, up from their $704 estimate in November 2013.

But that slight rise in dollars is perhaps the only good sign in the data. Nine percent of those surveyed won't spend a dime on Christmas (although that figure includes people who may not even celebrate because they aren't Christian.) Six percent said they aren't sure what they plan to spend, which seems high this late in the game.

And we seem to feel our friends and family are trending on the naughty side, since the $720 estimate in November is actually lower than the projection in October, when Gallup found the average commitment to be $781.

Gallup says its forecast suggests a 3 percent rise in sales this year over last. That seems good, but remember that last year saw just a 1.5 percent increase, in what was a dreadful season for retail. In fact, if this year's sales do rise by 3 percent, it is still slightly below the 14-year average in the Gallup polls.

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Of course, holiday predictions are typically all over the map. The National Retail Federation, for instance, points to a 4.1 percent increase, which statistically would be significantly rosier than Gallup and mark the highest rate of growth since 2011. Of course, the NRF also warns that there "remains some uneasiness and anxiety among consumers when it comes to their purchase decisions."

Also, Americans typically underpromise and overdeliver when it comes to Christmas spending estimates, expressing caution to pollsters, then spending on extras when they actually hit the stores.

Still, Gallup's report is a reminder for retailers that the days of making up for a weak year by tearing it up from Black Friday to Christmas Eve are coming to an end. As Gallup put it, the figures are a reminder that "Christmas sales still aren't what they used to be."

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