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Consumers Are Optimistic, But Will They Spend Money?

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The National Retail Federationreleased a new report today that finds that consumers are still cautious, and now retailers and advertisers are trying to figure out how to make the most of a tough holiday season.

The NRF's "Consumer Intentions and Actions 2009" survey found consumers saying they'll spend 3.2 percent less this holiday season than last year.

Consumers are planning to spend an average of $682.84 on holiday-related shopping, compared to $705.01 this year.

The economy is front and center in consumers minds — 65 percent say the economy will affect their holiday plans. The NRF's Ellen Davis tells me consumers are getting creative: they're making gifts, they're giving joint gifts, and they're re-using last year's decorations. (I wonder if that means that *re-gifting* will be at a high this year?) She says that while there's been a lot of buzz that higher-end consumers are returning to high-end retailers like Tiffany and Coach, that the majority of Americans won't feel confident about shopping again until jobless numbers start to rebound. That means that mid-level retailers like Macy's are going to be doing some major promotions to attract shoppers.

Advertising and marketing giant Omnicom Media Group gave us an exclusive look at a new survey on consumer optimism that it's releasing later this week. The key finding is an "optimism anomaly" —optimism is on the rise, but it's not translating to loosened purse strings, counter to historic patterns. Of the survey respondents, 67 percent say they've changed to a "cash only" rule and 91 percent say they don't see changing their current habits in the next three months. Yet this comes as 34 percent say that they think their personal financial situation will improve in three months, up from 28 percent in May.

Another point that jumps out — consumers perspectives vary depending on where they get their financial news. People who rely mostly on cable or broadcast business news are most likely to report that their personal financial situation is "moderate" or "strong." If you get your financial news from local TV news, you're most likely to say your financial situation is "weak." And readers of financial newspapers like the Wall Street Journal are *least* likely to describe their financial situation as "strong." Of course it's a chicken and egg question, whether the news source influences the outlook or the outlook influences what kind of news people watch, but all these groups are more cautious.

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