BUSINESS
12/14/2011 12:22 pm ET

Holiday Shopping: Consumers Opt For Classics In Tight Economy

For many kids this holiday season, the gifts under the tree may look similar to those their parents got when they themselves awoke on Christmas morning as excited children.

Barbie was the top toy imported to the U.S. in August and September -- the time period when most things are shipped for the holiday season -- according to a Panjiva analysis cited in Businessweek. The classic doll's popularity signals that with limited budgets shoppers may be more inclined to buy traditional toys that they know their kids will like, rather than taking a chance on the latest fad.

The Barbie trend mirrors a larger holiday shopping pattern: consumers looking to get the most bang for their buck. On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, many consumers used the deal bonanza to get discounts on basic necessities such as towels and baby clothes.

Though retail sales rose in November due in large part to holiday shopping, consumers pulled back on basics like groceries and building materials, signaling late November optimism may have been premature.

Americans also appear to be cutting back on other areas of their budget in order to afford the gifts they are buying. The sector that includes restaurants and bars saw its sales drop 0.3 percent, the Wall Street Journal reports. And even though sales in clothing and electronics stores were up, the gains likely won't hold up.

"You have these bursts [of spending], but until income growth gathers steam they don't last," said Jay Feldman, an U.S. economist at Credit Suisse told the WSJ.

Santa is doing his best to curb the expectations of America's children, as many parents struggle to come up with the excess income to pay for gifts. A recent survey found over half of American children live in homes where parents struggle to afford basic necessities.

In addition to consumers' concerns about a weak economy, retailers are facing another headwind during holiday shopping season, there's no Tickle-Me-Elmo or similar hit-toy sending shoppers to stores in droves. In response, stores are making their shelves leaner and offering fewer discounts than normal in the lead up to Christmas, according to The New York Times.

"We are not seeing people clamor for any single item," Stephanie Lucy, vice president for toys at Target told the NYT in an email.

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