Consumers are buying for themselves this holiday

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 6, 2010; 6:32 PM

Consumers are adding a very important name back to their holiday shopping lists this year: their own.

The percentage of shoppers who say they plan to indulge in a little something extra for themselves has risen four points since last year to more than 57 percent - the biggest jump in at least six years, according to an industry survey. Sales of jewelry, apparel and consumer electronics are up so far this holiday season from last year, and experts attribute part of the boost to what has become known as "self-gifting."

You didn't think Dad was going to give that 50-inch flat-panel TV to someone else, did you?

"The consumer really is sitting there saying, 'I'm going to take advantage of these deals,' " said Marshal Cohen, senior analyst for NPD Group, a consumer research firm. "This consumer is saying that there really is some pent-up demand."

During the nation's economic downturn, consumers saved money by whittling down their Christmas lists. Spending on gifts for babysitters, co-workers and teachers were slashed, and, in the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, shoppers cut back on themselves.

According to the National Retail Federation, the number of self-gifting shoppers began to fall in 2007 - the year the recession began - after steadily increasing for several holiday seasons. Though the number ticked up in 2008, it plunged last year to under 53 percent of shoppers. The amount they intended to spend last year also fell nearly 5 percent to $101.37.

This year, both measures have rebounded along with consumer confidence. And shoppers reported plans to spend an average of $107.50 this Christmas on themselves, the NRF said.

"The economy is picking up a little bit," said Lisa Bennett, as she sipped a Bellini on a recent evening at a cocktail party at Bliss Spa in downtown Washington for its top customers.

Bennett said the sense that the recovery is on track made her feel a little less guilty about spending $200 online at Ann Taylor for herself while she was scouring the Internet for gifts for her teen cousins. They got Best Buy gift certificates and J. Crew sweaters; she got two new tops and a dress and then booked an oxygen facial for herself at the spa.

General manager Michelle Caron said customers are not only booking "maintenance" appointments - the manicures and waxing counted as necessities among some women - but also reserving more indulgent services such as facials and massages. This holiday, the spa launched a new service dubbed Shopper's Delight, a lower leg massage and exfoliating treatment for $70.

"We've only been getting busier and busier," Caron said.

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