[Christmas 2009] More of the Same?

The good news for jewelers is that forecasters think Christmas 2009 won’t be much worse than Christmas 2008. The bad news: It won’t be much better.

Most economists said that, although the economy is improving, high unemployment and sluggish economic growth will likely hurt retail sales this season. "[There] is positive news as we move into the critical holiday season, but the economic environment will remain difficult," said Frank Badillo, senior economist for Retail Forward, a consulting and market research firm.

Badillo’s group noted that jewelry sales fell 18.1 percent last Christmas, but they predicted a 1.5 percent jump this year, adding, "Jewelry stores may eke out a small sales gain simply because of an especially easy comparison."

However, it also found that consumers ranked fine jewelry last among 14 products for holiday gift consideration, behind tools, video games, and plants.

The National Retail Federation was similarly cautious. "We might be heading into a recovery, but it won’t be a consumer-led recovery," said NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannif. "It’s going to take some time for consumers to feel as comfortable as they did two years ago."

Grannif said consumers will buy jewelry but will comparison shop and look for discounts. "Jewelry will play an important role in this holiday season," she said. "But instead of going to a luxury store, they will go to a department store or local place. People won’t be as frugal as last year, but that is not saying they are going to splurge."

She speculated that there might be some pent-up demand. "Last year’s sales were the worst in modern retailing. So if people have paid down enough of their credit card, they may look at jewelry as a nice treat, since they weren’t able to buy a nice gift last year."

Grannif also thinks consumers are more optimistic than they were last year. "The unemployment rate is still a factor," she noted. "But consumers are starting to feel a little better about the economy, and they have a lot of hope for 2010."