13 Observations On The New Holiday Spending Normal

While the rest of the world enjoys the New Normal, which lately has primarily and mostly negative connotations, when it comes to such "legacy" aspects of life as holiday shopping, we all enjoy the fall back to a simpler time assuming that at least such basic behavior as buying presents for the loved (and not so loved) ones can hardly change much with the years. Alas, even this last bastion of nostalgic simplicity has now been swept away: Nick Colas and his team from ConvergEx, have once again decided to educate us about the folly of assuming the old ways are with us, and has created a useful compilation exposing the finer nuances of the "twelve days of online Christmas" which show that just like everything else, holiday shopping patterns are rapidly changing as well. "This holiday season consumers aren’t quite as concerned with finding “cheap gifts” as in recent years, though traditional luxury items such as jewelry and cashmere sweaters are still losing traction with gift-givers. They’re seeking sales on electronics, becoming increasingly enamored with real vs. artificial Christmas trees, and backing off catering services in favor of home-cooked ham. New York City is the most popular place to spend Christmas and New Years (hey, it’s cheaper than a ski destination), but interest in the Radio City Rockettes and Broadway shows is dwindling. All these observations come courtesy of two of our favorite online gauges of consumer behavior – Google Trends and search engine autofills from Google, Yahoo and Bing. We’ve compiled a collection of 13 visuals (12 for the days of Christmas plus a bonus for Hanukkah) that ultimately show consumer spending patterns are still decidedly cautious."

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So read on for our 13 observations on holiday spending (in no particular order), running the gamut from presents to trips to food.

#13: Online shoppers are less concerned with “cheap presents” this year than in any other year since 2004. Of the 13 observations, this one’s the most optimistic economically-speaking, though the focus on inexpensive gifts in 2007 is curious. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Great Recession officially began in December 2007, so perhaps this is a reflection of consumers starting to feel the pinch.

#12: Electronics are the most popular item that people want to find on sale. TVs, laptops and iPods top the list, while tires and clothes also made an appearance in the top 10 Bing autofills.

#11: iPods, however, have been losing popularity as gifts over the years. 2007 was their peak, and this year they’re only about as popular as in 2004, despite a continuous stream of new models. We’re willing it bet it’s more a iPhone/iMac/iPad issue than economic issue, though the $200+ price tag may have some consumers thinking twice.

#10: Since spenders really began to feel the credit crunch in mid-2008, there’s been an evident substitution of wool sweaters for pricier cashmere sweaters. This one’s surely an economic issue.

#9: Jewelry, always a celebrated gift option, is about as sought-after this year as in 2010 and 2008. Pre-recession, as well as in 2009 prior to fears of a double-dip, it was a much more common gift – diamonds in particular. Google Trends also shows evidence of a substitution of less costly gold jewelry from search for diamond-studded fare, although part of this could be due to gold’s well-publicized investment value. Sort of a Yuletide ‘Two birds with one stone” present.

#8: Men, friends, kids and coworkers top the list of people for whom consumers most want to find cheap gifts, according to Bing’s autofill results. Mom, dad and teachers are also popular searches, though noticeably absent is the phrase “cheap gifts for women.”

#7: Every year since 2004, searches for “real Christmas trees” have been catching up to “artificial Christmas trees” and are now almost even. Real trees cost anywhere from $15 to $200 depending on where you buy them, while artificial trees cost $100 on average. However, over the course of 10 years, real trees cost more than 3 times as much as an artificial one, according to the American Christmas Tree Association (http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/12/09/cost-of-christmas-are-live-trees…).

#6: Northeasterners planning vacations prefer either to stay very local or go abroad (Google’s autofill is location-adaptive). New York City is the most favored destination (a relatively inexpensive travel option for those in the region), followed by India, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. And the cheaper Euro doesn’t seem to be helping boost travel plans to the Continent – Spain and Paris are at the bottom of this Top 10 list.

#5: New York is also the leading New Year Eve haven, followed by the likes of Vegas, California, New Orleans, Chicago and Atlanta. Paris is the only international destination in Yahoo’s autofill results.

#4: For those who haven’t forgone holiday trips altogether, here’s more evidence New York City is a cheap alternative to more wintry hotspots. Searches for “luxury” Colorado ski vacation destination Breckenridge peaked in 2006/07 and have dropped every year since. The difference between now and 2007 is quite substantial, though on the plus side current interest in Breckenridge trips is about on par with last year.

#3: While travelers may be headed to New York, they appear to be spending less on traditional holiday activities the city offers. Interest in both the Radio City Rockettes and Broadway shows is at an all-time Christmas season low. Our offices are located in the heart of the theater district, and it does seem every bit as crowded as last year, however.

#2: Home-cooked meals are more likely to be on the dinner table than prior to the recession, when costlier catered feasts were in greater demand.

#1: What about the most sought after holiday recipe? Jello mold, according to Bing. Expectedly, ham and cookies made the list, as did reindeer food and happiness. And we hear the sangria at Ruby Tuesday is quite tasty.


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