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Consumers in a frugal holiday mood, the Conference Board reports

U.S. households are expected to spend an average of $390 on Christmas gifts this holiday season, down from last year's estimate of $418, The Conference Board reports. The survey of Christmas gift spending intentions covers a nationally representative sample of 5,000 U.S. households. It was conducted for The Conference Board in November.

"Consumers are approaching the holiday season very cautiously," says Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "Job losses and uncertainty about the future are making for a very frugal shopper. Retailers will need to be quite creative to entice consumers to spend, both in stores and online this holiday season, as consumers most certainly will expect major markdowns and bargains."

The top spenders will be New England households (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) who intend to spend an average of $534. Lowest Christmas spending will be in the Mountain region (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming) where consumers intend to spend $332 on Christmas gifts.

Only 26 percent of all households intend to spend $500 or more on Christmas gifts, down slightly from 27 percent last year. Among other households, 35 percent plan to spend $200-$500, down from 37 percent last year, and 39 percent are planning to spend less than $200, up from 35 percent in 2008.

Online buying intentions. Consumers will also approach online holiday shopping very cautiously, holding off on big ticket items and holding out for major incentives like free shipping and discounts, according to The Consumer Internet Barometer, a separate survey produced quarterly by The Conference Board. The Consumer Internet Barometer surveys 10,000 households across the country and tracks who's doing what on the Internet.

Budget-friendly items appear at the top of consumers' online holiday shopping lists. The top categories include books, apparel/footwear, toys/games and movies/DVDs. The most preferred shopping sites are those operated by online retailers such as Retail stores and catalog operators such as or are a close second.

About 90 percent of online consumers cite free shipping as a major incentive. More than two out of three said special deals and offers not available in stores as well as coupons and discounts would encourage them to spend more.

Source: The Conference Board;

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