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Retail association execs present top 10 shopping trends

From mobile apps to Black Friday’s move to midnight, the 2011 holiday shopping scene will change dramatically. In a preview of the season, the National Retail Federation’s CEO Matt Shay and Vice President Ellen Davis offer 10 top shopping trends, taking into consideration the current uncertain economy, changes in shoppers’ spending habits and everyone’s love affair with technology.

1. (Not such) great expectations.

Holiday sales could rise just 2.8 percent this year to $466 billion. That’s about half of last year’s gains. Despite consumer skittishness and high unemployment, “The good news is that the third quarter GDP was stronger than expected and consumers contributed to that,” Shay said.

2. Online sales continue to grow.

“Nearly seven in 10 online retailers expect their sales to grow at least 15 percent this holiday season,” Davis said. “There’s no question that the multichannel shopper is the biggest opportunity for retailers.”

3. What have you done for me lately?

“Today’s consumer has high expectations. They already assume retailers will be offering low prices or strong promotions, and they want to know what they’re going to get on top of that,” Davis said.

It could be quality, value, convenience, service, shorter checkout lines, layaway or better stocked shelves.

4. Shelves are leaner.

Back in 2008, retailers were caught unaware and many ended the season with loads of unsold goods. They’ve since pulled back.

“Inventory levels are still very lean this year,” Shay said. “There could be shortages of the most popular products.”

5. You better shop around.

“During periods of consumer uncertainty, people are maniacal about shopping around to find the best deal,” Davis said.

Shoppers will visit discounters, department stores, clothing shops, electronics stores, craft stores and grocery stores. “People won’t hesitate to buy toys at a grocery store or stocking stuffers at a wholesale club.”

6. One for you, one for me.

“Six in 10 holiday shoppers have set aside money to make additional nongift purchases for themselves this season,” Davis said. “The average person will spend $130 on these purchases, an all-time high and a 16 percent jump from last year.”

The J. Crew website’s slogan is “to you, from you.” Some self-gifting is prompted by seasonal deals on everything from snow blowers to small appliances.

7. Luxury and practicality blend.

“The most popular items this year aren’t necessarily cheap, but they are appropriate to wear or use on a regular basis,” said Shay.

That could mean a $200 Keurig coffeemaker or $400 watch. Forget about a seldom-used evening bag.

8. Black Friday moves to midnight.

The day after Thanksgiving has become “a competitive free-for-all among retailers eager to nab those first holiday shoppers,” Davis said.

Last year the number of people who shopped at midnight tripled. Macy’s, Kohl’s and Target recently announced midnight openings this year for the first time.

9. Shoppers expect free shipping.

Retailers have a love/hate relationship with it. “After all, somebody has to pay for the 20,000 people that FedEx is hiring this holiday season,” Davis said. “A record 92.5 percent of online retailers will offer free shipping his holiday season.”

10. There’s an app for that.

“Half of Americans with smartphones will use their devices for holiday shopping this year,” Davis said.

Phones will be used to research products, compare prices, find store hours and redeem coupons. “Only 16 percent will actually use their phones to make purchases,” she said.

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