Holiday Spending Plans Plummet, Signaling Dismal Retail Season

In data since 1985, this is only the second year in which anywhere near this number of Americans have said they'd cut their holiday spending. The last was 1991, when fourth-quarter retail sales were flat -- their worst performance in the past generation.

DOLLAR FIGURE -- As noted, Americans on average say they'll spend $716 on holiday gifts, sharply down from an inflation-adjusted $1,228 in a 2005 ABC News poll. The number is less precise than it looks -- it's hard to estimate actual spending in advance -- but it does indicate the extent to which consumers are pulling in their horns.

Spending plans in this measure are down among women (50 percent lower than in 2005), down by 47 percent in $100,000-plus households, and down especially steeply, by 61 percent, among seniors.

SALES -- While majorities across the board say they're likely to wait for items to go on sale, this, too, peaks in some groups -- among women (74 percent are looking for sales, compared with 60 percent of men) and shoppers under age 55. Again, even among well-off shoppers, large numbers are looking for sales -- 73 percent in $100,000-plus households and 80 percent in those with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000.

Not only do 68 percent say it's likely they'll wait for sales (up from 42 percent in 1990), but 43 percent call it "very" likely -- up from 18 percent in that earlier poll.

INTERNET -- Finally, elements of the digital divide remain intact: Use of the Internet for holiday shopping remains to a great degree a thing of age, income, and education.

Among adults under age 35, 52 percent say they'll shop online for holiday gifts. That declines steadily across age groups, bottoming out at just 16 percent of seniors. Shopping online also is far more prevalent among higher-income Americans, falling precipitously among those who are less well off. And it peaks among college graduates vs. those who haven't gone beyond high school.

METHODOLOGY -- This ABC News poll was conducted by telephone Nov. 12-16, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,002 adults. The results have a 3-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

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