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Surveys Find Florida Consumers Have Less to Spend for Christmas

Contact: Barton Weitz, 352-392-7166, Ext. 1256,; Hyunoo Oh, 352-392-7166, x. 1269,; both with the University of Florida


GAINESVILLE, Fla., Nov. 21 /Standard Newswire/ -- Despite falling gasoline prices, most Florida consumers don't plan to spend more this Christmas season than they did last year.


Results from two surveys by the University of Florida this fall are consistent: Consumers have less money to spend because of higher expenses for utilities, insurance premiums, rising interest rates and debts from last year's Christmas shopping.


A telephone survey of 504 Florida residents in October found that 54.6 percent of consumers said they expect their purchases will be the same as last year; 32.8 percent said less than last year; and only 12.6 percent said more than last year. The margin of error in the data is 4 percent. A month ago, UF released results of a survey from September with a similar negative forecast for retailers, even though gas prices were higher then.


"The similarity in results suggests that the guarded shopping is not due to high gasoline prices but because of more fundamental issues concerning rising insurance and mortgage costs and consumer debt levels," said Barton Weitz, executive director of the Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research in UF's Warrington College of Business Administration.


In the most recent survey, consumers also said they had less income and fewer people on their gift lists because of children moving out of the home, divorce and other changes to family structure.


Because last year's sales were exceptionally strong, retailers are likely to be disappointed this year, Weitz said.


Survey results were consistent across different income groups although responses of "more than last year" and "same as last year" increased along with income growth. In each of the income groups, only a small portion of consumers indicated that they plan to spend more than last year.


More consumers in the high-income bracket of $60,000-$99,999 indicated they plan to spend more than last year (15.7 percent) than did other income groups. The percentages were 14 percent for a low-income group; 13.1 percent for a middle-income group and 10 percent for a very high-income group.


Lower-income groups indicated they planned to spend less than last year than the higher-income groups. These findings suggest that discount retailers might need to emphasize price-based holiday promotions earlier than usual to increase traffic and sales.


Because they plan to spend less, consumers also foresee changing where and how they shop. Sales at discount stores such as Wal-Mart and Target will be better compared to other retailers. However, specialty stores like The Gap will struggle to lure consumers. Only 7 percent of consumers indicated that they will spend more than last year at specialty stores; 54 percent said that they will spend less than last year and 39 percent said the same as last year. Department stores such as Macy's will not see as much hardship as specialty stores. Consumers plan to increase spending at Web sites this year, choosing Internet shopping over traditional enclosed malls.


Consumers said they will spend the same as last year in the areas of food, entertainment and electronics. They will spend less than the last year on things for home category, toys and games and jewelry.


Despite the consistent survey results, spending on holiday shopping will be swayed by what retailers offer to consumers this year, Weitz said.


"Considering increased sensitivity to prices this year from reduced disposable incomes, retailers have to be smart this year," Weitz said. "Consumers will be looking for deals and shopping more wisely than before."