Research and Statistics

Poll: 2 in 5 found holiday shopping less pleasant this year


A new poll shows two out of five Americans report less pleasant holiday shopping than last year.

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Glad the holiday shopping season is over? You’re not alone. A new poll shows two out of five Americans feel the 2008 holiday shopping season was less pleasant than the year before.

Retailers who logged the worst holiday sales in decades weren’t the only ones feeling the blues. The poll found that 42 percent of Americans say that compared to last year, holiday shopping was less pleasant in 2008.

“Given the environment they were shopping in, it’s no wonder it wasn’t as pleasant as last year,” says Lynn Franco, director of the consumer research center for The Conference Board, publishers of the monthly Consumer Confidence Index. “It’s a reflection of what’s happening out there — a gauge of how consumers are dealing with this.”

The scientific poll, conducted Jan. 9-11, 2009, by the research firm GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media on behalf of, included interviews with a representative sample of 1,005 adults. (See poll methodology.)

Only one in four people (27 percent) say this past holiday season was “more pleasant” than last year. Another quarter (26 percent) said it was about the same, while 5 percent said they didn’t do holiday shopping. Of those who found the holidays unpleasant, people earning less than $20,000 a year were more likely (62 percent) than any other income group to express disappointment in the holiday.

Compared to last year, was holiday shopping more or less pleasant for you this year?
Two out of five Americans feel the 2008 holiday shopping season was less pleasant than the year before
Source: poll

“A lot of consumers were struggling this holiday season and that made it more difficult for them to shop,” says Erin Hershkowitz , spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group. Hershkowitz points to the brisk after-Christmas store traffic as an indication that price-conscious, cash-strapped shoppers were hunting for bargains.

“They were holding out until those really deep discounts came into play,” she adds. Many settled for discount store purchases when they really wanted specialty apparel items, she says. “The overall consumer mindset this holiday season was, ‘What’s the best price I can get?’ ”

No regrets
Taking that extra time to shop for the best prices likely contributed to the number of people expressing confidence in their purchase decisions, says Gail Cunningham, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a coalition of nonprofit consumer credit counseling agencies.

When asked, “Do you regret any of the holiday purchases you made?” more than 9 out of 10 (95 percent) said they had no regrets. Only 5 percent indicated second thoughts.

“It sounds as though buyer’s remorse took a holiday this shopping season, perhaps due to the fact that consumers put more thought into their purchases,” says Cunnningham. “That is a trend I expect to continue, as frugality becomes more fashionable. Some would argue that consumers have short memories, and once things turn around financially, we’ll return to our old ways of overspending. However, I think the lesson has been hard, and the pain very real, which will result in a shift toward more responsible spending for years to come.”

A sign of the times
Retailers and credit counselors say with near record layoffs and the stalled economy, it’s no wonder many people found the holidays less than pleasant. The credit crunch had a direct impact on many families as credit card issuers and other lenders reined in credit by slashing credit limits, closing dormant accounts and hiking interest rates on millions of accounts. Add to that credit counselors’ advice to many to wean off of credit cards, save more and pay off debt. The result: unhappy holidays in many parts of the country.

Few around the country were untouched by the economic doldrums: Home foreclosures on your block, a relative and friend being laid off, cutbacks in company benefits, investment portfolios taking nose-dives.

“Consumers really did pull back,” says Franco, from the confidence index. The index is based on a sample of 5,000 U.S. households to gauge consumer attitudes about the economy. Franco says she asked index respondents if they expected to spend more than they did last year on the holidays. Those planning to spend between $100 and $499 in stores over the holidays declined to 57 percent from 61 percent the previous year, according to the survey released in November 2008.

Debt collectors reported debtors were so strapped for cash that they couldn’t pay their bills and were skipping Christmas altogether, according to Michelle Dunn, CEO of Michelle Dunn’s Credit and Collections Association, a debt collection trade group.

“A lot more debtors are just really trying to live,” Dunn told in November during an interview about the difficult debt collection climate. “A lot of them are just not having Christmases. I’ve heard that this year more than I ever heard before.”

Poll methodology
The survey was conducted from Jan. 9-11, 2009, by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media on behalf of, via random digit dialing phone interviews with 1,005 interview subjects. Interviewees were approximately split between males and females ages 18 and over, with 525 females and 480 males surveyed. The raw data were then weighted by a custom designed computer program that automatically developed a weighting factor for each respondent, employing five variables: age, sex, education, race and geographic region.

The total margin of error on weighted data for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

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