Sacramento-area holiday shoppers are finding bargains -- for themselves

12/16/2012 12:00 AM

12/16/2012 11:38 AM

It's that generous time of year, when people get a warm, fuzzy feeling from buying gifts for their loved ones.

Or for themselves.

The practice of "self-gifting" is on the rise as retailers offer deep discounts in the days leading up to Christmas, reports the National Retail Federation.

Six in 10 Americans, or 59 percent, say they will take advantage of discounts over the holidays to buy non-gift items, according to the retail group's 2012 holiday spending survey. And those are only the ones who admit to it, said retail federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis.

These shoppers plan to spend an average of $140 on themselves during the holidays, the most in the decade since shoppers have been surveyed about the trend.

In 2004, the average amount shoppers spent on non-gift items during the holidays was $89.

The one-for-them, one-for-me philosophy was on display last week in Sacramento-area malls.

"Everything is such a bargain out there, I can't resist," said Sacramento resident Patty Dill, who was shopping at Arden Fair mall.

Dill said she feels a slight pang of guilt when she fills her shopping bag with goodies for herself, but added, "I can live through the guilt."

Retailers know all about self-gifting. In recent years, they've targeted such shoppers by shifting markdowns more to the days before Christmas, rather than focusing on post-holiday sales.

Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, is a prime example. Over Thanksgiving weekend, eight in 10 holiday bargain-hunters surveyed by the retail federation said they planned to scoop up online and in-store deals for non-gift uses.

"Black Friday was all about us," said Rose Cholewinski of Davis, who was shopping at Arden Fair recently with her 21-year-old daughter Krysten. "I don't think we bought anything for anyone else. We bought a TV. And clothes."

"Lots of clothes," Krysten agreed.

While overall holiday retail sales are brisker than in the past few years, retailers are slashing prices in the weeks just before Christmas to keep momentum going during the post-Thanksgiving lull.

Gift-giving in general seems to be on the upswing after several shaky economic years held consumers in check, Grannis said. That's good news for retailers, since some capture up to 40 percent of their business in the holiday season.

From 2007 to 2008, holiday sales dipped by 8 percent, and in 2009, it was about the same, Grannis said. Holiday sales in 2010 and 2011 started lumbering upward.

Consumers this year plan to spend more on people outside of families, Grannis said. The average person buying gifts for their "besties" this year will spend $104, up from $97 last year.

People buying presents for pets and "community acquaintances," such as postal workers and baby-sitters, will spend an average of $63 on each of those special people, up from $56 last year.

And even special co-workers can expect a little extra under the tree this year. Grannis said spending on colleagues will rise to more than $73, compared with $69 in 2011.

Figures released by the U.S. Commerce Department on Thursday suggested a solid start to the shopping season. Retail sales for November – excluding gasoline sales – rose by 0.8 percent from October. Online retailers posted particularly strong gains of 3 percent, and sales at electronics and appliance stores registered a 2.5 percent gain.

But some analysts say holiday spending may stall. Jeff Michael, an economist at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, said vigorous sales over Thanksgiving weekend and the early start to Black Friday may have drained some of the shopping demand from the rest of the run-up to Christmas.

Overall, he said, sales may top out slightly above last year, but with reports of a federal showdown over tax issues, shoppers are also getting skittish.

"There's a general weakness in consumer confidence, with the talk of federal cuts and what that could mean," Michael said. "Payroll tax deductions, Social Security taxes, extended unemployment benefits, these may all be severely curtailed. They are all on the chopping block in January, and that could take a chunk out of the revenue stream. That is weighing on consumer psychology."

Sacramento-area retailers may get a boost from declining gas prices, which make consumers more comfortable, and with the easing of home foreclosures in the area.

"The real estate picture is improving, so people are more optimistic about the value of their homes," Michael said.

Still, he added, "We're a long way from having the home equity cash machine open up again."

Retailers are trying to keep the money rolling in by offering deep discounts.

That phenomenon wasn't lost on Bob and Diane Hirsch of Sacramento, who were strolling through Arden Fair on a recent holiday shopping trip.

"There are better sales this year than I've ever seen," declared Bob Hirsch. "It's a good time for shopping. The weather is nice, and people will be able to choose from some very nice gifts."

Hirsch also noticed a dearth of customers at the mall, following national trends. The International Council of Shopping Centers reported a slowdown of shopping in malls, compared with this time last year.

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