Lot of deals await holiday shoppers

Here’s some good news about holiday shopping in a down economy: It’s a buyer’s market.

Anticipating slower sales, retailers are expected to offer deep discounts this season, industry experts predict.

“People are going to be getting incredible bargains,” said Nancy Kyle, president and chief executive officer of the Retail Merchant’s Association of New Hampshire.

But that doesn’t translate into good news for retailers.

In the survey released Monday by the New Hampshire merchants association, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they expect holiday season sales to be worse than last year.

Eighty-three percent described the attitude of their customers as “cautious,” although only 12 percent went as far as to say “worried.”

Kyle said the survey results were not as gloomy as she expected.

“I thought it would be across the board negative. I was surprised to see any positive,” she said.

Thirty-five percent said the economy would impact sales, and 29 percent said consumer confidence could be the culprit. However, only 5 percent said the inability to get credit or financing for inventory would hurt them.

National surveys also predict a slow season.

A hefty 37 percent of consumers responding to the annual International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs holiday survey said they planned to scale back on gifts and other holiday expenses this year.

That’s 10 percentage points higher than 2007 and the highest percentage since the survey added that question in 2004.

“One of the biggest expected changes is that consumers will be more restrained on personal spending – despite the bargains – and more focused on gift-buying,” Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research for ICSC, said in a statement.

Kyle predicts retailers that sell home goods or kitchen supplies will still do well this season. When the economy is in downturn, people tend to “nest” and find ways to pamper themselves at home, she said.

High-end retailers will probably suffer, but stores that sell inexpensive luxuries such as candy, wine and books will probably have a good season, Kyle said. Sales of personal electronics, small gift items such as candles, clothing and gifts cards should remain strong too, she said.