Crisp, dry autumn leaves have yet to fall in Lawrence, but holiday shopping is already under way.
Shoppers nationwide have started to purchase gifts for family and friends. Some began months ago. And they have a good reason: It will be a bumpy shopping season.
The National Retail Federation, a retail trade association, reported last month that the 2008 holiday shopping season would present challenges for shoppers and stores.
Consumers are concerned about the economy, paying for food and gasoline, and looking for dollars to stretch while retailers need to reach sales goals. The association predicted holiday sales will increase by 2.2 percent, which is half of the 10-year average sales increase of 4.4 percent. Americans are expected to spend $470.4 billion this holiday season.
Many retailers are offering sales and creating strategies to keep shoppers in stores. Wal-Mart will sell 10 popular children's toys priced at $10 and start sales this month to give shoppers more time to buy. Target stores will offer a range of gifts for under $25 and highlight sales in prime sections in stores.
"We understand this is a difficult economic environment both for our guests and for the retail industry," said Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman.
Thomas believes it will be a competitive holiday season as usual, but retailers will have to give people a reason to shop in their stores. Target is now focused on emphasizing the "Pay Less" portion of its "Expect More. Pay Less" motto featured in advertisements.
Robert Baker, an education coordinator with Housing and Credit Counseling Inc., believes people will continue shopping for gifts, but they must create their own strategies to avoid overspending.
"For consumers, you just need to be very discriminating, and in order to do that, you have to do what anybody would do when they're budgeting, which is start early and have a plan," he said.
Fewer retailers offer layaway plans, but many do offer a "buy now, pay later" plan or encourage shoppers to open credit accounts. Baker warns consumers to be aware of the consequences of using credit to purchase gifts.
"What we usually see in the holiday season is people will charge with the hope that they can pay it off in January or February," he said. "Maybe they're expecting a Christmas bonus, or overtime at Christmas, or perhaps a tax return. This year with the economy being in a bit of a downturn, I don't think you can count on those things."
He calls the surprise debt consumers get in the mail in January the "holiday hangover."
Besides creating a budget and shopping list, Baker has three more tips for holiday shoppers: rethink a shopping plan; look at the total cost of the holiday season, including decorations, food, costs to ship gifts; and be a discriminating shopper.
Baker recommends looking for sales in stores, in advertisements and online.
Major retailers may be concerned about sales for the holiday season, but some Lawrence business owners are not.
"I'm going to plan just like I've done in the past as far as what to expect from the customers," said Kyle Billings, owner of Fun and Games, 1601 W. 23rd St. "I'm not too worried. The holiday season is a time when even if you can't really make it work financially, you'll go ahead and (shop), and you'll pay the price come January."
Fun and Games is a costume and toy store, specializing in hard-to-find older toys and games. Billings said he is a self-proclaimed optimist and believes people will continue to shop and spend money.
"I really feel that people take things day-to-day and they'll see that things aren't as bad as they possibly could be, and they'll still go out and get gifts for the people that they want to," he said.
Some consumers have already changed their shopping plans.
"We're not buying gifts for our siblings in order to conserve our money," said Erica Savio, about what she and her husband plan to do this holiday season.
Savio hopes people are taking the economy into consideration when shopping for the holidays.
"Americans, we tend to be more concerned about possession than the future, otherwise we wouldn't have this mortgage crisis we have now."