Christmas In October?

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Wal-Mart threw down the holiday price-cutting gauntlet earlier than usual this year. Today, Oct. 1, the world’s largest retailer announced that it reduced prices on select toys, “signaling its determination to be America’s price leader this Christmas.” It also said it would “fast-track the opening of Christmas shops in stores nationwide” over the next 10 days.

CE retailers beware: CE price cuts can’t be far behind.

The silver lining for us all (by “us,” I mean those of us who profit directly or indirectly from consumer electronics sales, not “us” as in society at large), if we can call it that, is that Wal-Mart’s 2008 Holiday Shopping Intentions Survey found that electronic gifts are the “most desired gift for this Christmas season,” because 13 percent of respondents listed them as a priority over other comparatively trivial wishes like “financial security” and “good health,” respectively a priority for only 10 percent and 6 percent of respondents. (Actually, “good health” tied with “car/automotive items” — go figure.)

All joking aside, Wal-Mart said it found consumers intend to “start their Christmas shopping earlier and make other changes to help stretch their holiday cash.”

Additional key findings follow:

·         Sixty-one percent of Americans do not plan on making cutbacks on how much they spend this Christmas season, but those who do plan on making cutbacks plan on cutting back $50 or less.

·         To help deal with the weakened economy this season, however, more than one-third of Americans plan to purchase less expensive items (39 percent), to start their Christmas shopping earlier (35 percent) or to purchase presents for fewer people on their list this year (35 percent).

·         One-quarter (25 percent) of Americans plan on giving one to two fewer presents per person this year.

·         Fifteen percent of Americans plan to drop a friend from their Christmas list this year. This is followed by 13 percent of Americans who plan to drop a coworker from their list.

This is all worth keeping in mind as we watch the larger economic situation unravel and brace ourselves for the likely fourth-quarter fallout. 

P.S. — I don’t know about you, but I still haven’t completely gotten used to Wal-Mart’s move to break the PC mold and abandon the constant use of neutral phrases like “Happy holidays” and encourage the return to a direct acknowledgement of Christmas.

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