Judy Cabrera of Norton, Mass., is cutting way back on Christmas shopping this year because the economy — her economy — is so tight.
"Gas just went up 20 cents a gallon, again," she says. "Instead of $30 to fill up the tank, it's close to $40. There's only so many numbers of dollars here."
Ronald Perkins of Fort Lauderdale says the economy — his economy — is just fine, and he and his wife won't change their generous Christmas spending this year. "We're apt to say, 'Let's do a cruise,' as a gift to each other," he says.
For consumers and the retailers who serve them, this may be a Christmas of those who "have" and those who "have less." In a tightening economy, some consumers are hurt more than others. Rising costs for gasoline and food affect people with lower incomes more.
Analysts expect consumers who have more money to spend as much as last year, maybe more. Consumers who have less money will spend less than last year, maybe the same.
"Some consumers just have bigger wallets," says Tom Spencer, a vice president of Claritas, a consumer marketing research firm based in San Diego.
Retailers, too, will be split. Those that serve a larger group of higher-income consumers are likely to prosper. Those that serve more lower-income consumers may be squeezed.
To find out which retailers may be hurt this holiday season, Claritas analyzed consumers by income and shopping habits for USA TODAY. The analysis, focused on shoppers who went to a store, not those who shopped online, found that:
•Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom jwa, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's, in that order, have the highest concentrations of high-income customers. High income is defined as households that earn more than $100,000 a year. People who earn more than $100,000 are nearly 2½ times more likely to shop at Neiman Marcus than the average U.S. household.
•Bloomingdales, Macy's m, Marshalls, Saks Fifth Avenue and Express have the highest concentration of middle-income customers, households that earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year. Shoppers at Macy's, for instance, are 40% more likely to earn $75,000 to $100,000 a year than the U.S. population.
•Kmart shld, Lane Bryant, Wal-Mart wmt, ShopKo and J.C. Penney jcp stores had the highest concentration of lower-income customers, households that earn less than $50,000 a year. Customers of Wal-Mart, for instance, are nearly twice as likely to earn $20,000 to $40,000 than are customers of Macy's.
Still, all stores that serve more lower-income consumers won't necessarily be hurt this holiday shopping season. Some may thrive as they lure the worried, murky middle of American consumers.
Those shoppers may move "down the scale" to a lower-price store, says Chris Donnelly, a partner in the retail practice of Accenture, a consulting firm.
Even consumers at the top of the scale may shop at retailers one step down if they feel they should be saving money this year.
"A lot of people will shift down," Donnelly says. "The less affluent may pull back in their shopping, but the slightly more affluent shopper might move down (in retailers) and look for more value in what they buy."
Economic worries — for some
News of mortgage lending woes, lower housing prices, higher gasoline costs and auto industry layoffs have some consumers worried that a recession could be coming.
According to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,014 adults on Nov. 11-14, 25% of Americans say they will spend less on Christmas gifts this year than they did last year.