Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Christmas Shopping Patterns Changing

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Christmas Shopping Patterns Changing

Article excerpt

NEW YORK _ Americans will observe one of the great Thanksgiving traditions Friday by crowding into stores and malls, marking the unofficial debut of the 1991 Christmas shopping season.

But this first weekend isn't as important to retailers as it once was.

Shifting population patterns, economics and savvier consumers have made the last 10 days before Christmas the most critical time for storeowners.

A major reason for the change is the return of women to the work force in the 1970s and '80s, which means they have less spare time and delay shopping until later in December.

The anemic economy this year also may prompt consumers to delay shopping, a prospect suggested by numerous surveys showing Americans are increasingly insecure about their finances. The government provided more evidence Wednesday in reports that showed personal income and spending for October remained weak.

"When someone becomes more economically strained, they tend to only make purchases when they need to," said Thomas J. Tashjian, a retail industry analyst with the investment firm First Manhattan Co.

The rules of credit-card financing also have helped push back the shopping season. Many card users, seeking to put off payments, shop in December so they don't have to pay until January or February.

Tashjian said long-term changes in the economy over the past 20 years have resulted in more people working on the day after Thanksgiving, so they're unable to shop.

The growth in service jobs _ which includes retailers themselves _ and the decline in the number of manufacturing and union jobs are among those changes.

Another big reason for late shopping is that consumers have grown accustomed to Christmas merchandise discounts as the holiday draws closer, something unheard of 10 years ago.

Jittery storeowners now mark down holiday offerings, forcing rival retailers to do likewise. …

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