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Survey: Americans surprisingly upbeat about holiday season

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New York City The Deloitte Holiday Survey released Wednesday found that fears about the recession are starting to subside, as 54% of those surveyed said that expect the economy will improve in 2010. That compares with 28% last year.

The 24th annual holiday survey of retail spending and trends also found that 51% of consumers hope to spend more or the same for the holidays, up from 41% last year.

Despite expectations for economic improvement, consumers continue to reduce their spending on gifts. The average number of gifts people plan to purchase declined to 18.2 from 21.5 last year and 23.1 in 2007. The amount consumers plan to spend on gifts is $452, compared with $532 in 2008, and $569 in 2007.

Consumers, however, plan to bump spending on non-gift items. These categories include socializing away from home, entertaining, non-gift clothing and home/holiday furnishings. These increases lift consumers’ total anticipated holiday spend to $1,145, which is a 16% increase over last year.

Frugality won’t disappear during the holidays. Two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said their shopping will be impacted by the economy, as 74% plan to buy items on sale, 57% intend to buy lower-priced items and 54% plan to use more store coupons.

“Consumers appear to be revisiting shopping categories that they had put on the back burner for a while, and they may be returning because of the need to replenish,” said Stacy Janiak, vice chairman and Deloitte’s U.S. Retail leader. “Over the past several months, we have seen key economic indicators ease from their worst levels, helping to put more resources back into Americans’ pockets.  As a result, a cautious upturn in sentiment may draw consumers out of their bunkers, turn their focus away from saving and debt reduction, and encourage them to do some holiday shopping for their homes, family and friends.”

Other key findings include: Discount stores hold the top spot as a shopping destination, as 59% say they expect to shop discount/value department stores. Online shopping remains strong at 42%, and the combined electronics, office supply and computer store category ranks third at 26%.

Traditional department stores continue their downward trend, falling to 23%, a sharp drop from last year’s 35%. Some of the more popular shopping destinations include toy stores, outlet stores/centers and off-price stores.

Sixty-four percent of consumers plan to buy gift cards as presents.

For more information about Deloitte’s Annual Holiday Survey, visit deloitte.com/us/2009HolidaySurvey.