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Christmas in July: Consumers To Out-Scrooge Scrooge

Thursday, 9 Jul 2009 | 3:50 PM ET

Not in a buying mood? Cue the holiday music.

AP

Yes, it's Christmas in July, and we're not talking about some promotional discount effort. Sears Holdings recently opened Christmas shops in hundreds of its stores and also set up Christmas Lane boutiques at Sears.com and Kmart.com.

While some may call it a bid to get shoppers in a buying mood, it may very well be a sign of just how competitive this holiday season will be and a sign of how hard retailers will fight to get scarce consumer dollars.

A recent survey from BigResearch shows retailers have reason to be anxious. Consumers are likely to out-Scrooge Scrooge this holiday season. More than one in three — some 36.2 percent — say they plan to spend less this holiday season compared with last, while a paltry 2.7 percent expect to spend more, and one in four — or about 26.1 percent — plan to spend the same. (About 29.1 percent say it's too early to know and 5.8 percent don't celebrate the season, BigResearch says.)

Among those planning to spend less on the holidays, the majority say they plan to cut their budgets altogether in order to bring down their costs. Others plan to employ a few tactics: buying only gifts on sale (48.3 percent), doing more comparison shopping (40.4 percent), buying for fewer relatives (32.4 percent), and gifting to fewer friends (30.7 percent).

These results come as monthly sales reports from retailers show just how hard it is for retailers to shake the impact of the recession. Although expectations for June sales were modest, most retailers fell short of analysts estimates.

This latest round of reports have analysts raising concerns about the fast-approaching back-to-school shopping season. Retailers of teen apparel have been one of the brighter areas of the retail sector, but in June this group saw the biggest drop among all retailers, with sales dropping 13.5 percent.

Notably, The Buckle , which has been on a hot streak of late, fell short of analyst expectations, posting a 9.6 percent increase in same-store sales, compared with the 12 percent gain that was expected. Although the nearly 10 percent gain was a lot more robust than the sales declines posted by other retailers, it was The Buckle's first less than double-digit percentage gain in nearly two years.

Rival Abercrombie & Fitch tried to woo consumers with deep discounts, but the strategy didn't win over teens. Same-store sales fell 32 percent, the steepest percentage decline among the retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters.

More from Consumer Nation:

Questions? Comments? Email us atconsumernation@cnbc.com

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