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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Baking, bartering, scouring consignment shops and waiting until the last minute for bigger bargains are strategies being used by recession-wary Americans who still want to give gifts this holiday season.
"Handmade products are really going to replace a lot of spending," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail industry analyst at NPD Group. And, Cohen said, he tells people to break out the cookbook and "bake some cookies". He also expects that people will be making their own gift baskets instead of buying expensive ones.
"A lot of people are very comfortable with saying, 'I'm on a budget,'" this season and cutting back on the amount of money they spend on gifts, Cohen said.
As the U.S. economy contracts and more people fear for their jobs, U.S. retailers are bracing for what may be the weakest holiday shopping season in two decades.
Retailers are offering more aggressive deals this year to get people shopping on November 28, the day after Thanksgiving known as "Black Friday" because it once put many stores "in the black" before year end.
While those deals may be tempting, shoppers could do well to wait for bigger promotions that may come closer to Christmas as stores clear out inventory.
"Most of the stuff we're seeing is (consumers) trying to take advantage of any of the bargains and also waiting to see if the deals get any better," said George Belch, professor of marketing at San Diego State University.
Retailers have worked hard to tighten inventories to avoid steep markdowns. But this year, there is no "must-have" item as there has been in the past, and less fear that procrastinators stand to lose out on discounts, so consumers are more likely to hold out for last minute bargains.
"What we're seeing is consumers think it's mostly hype," said Tom Krause, director of strategic consulting at marketing research firm Maritz Research Retail Group.
Enter the Internet, a great price checking tool and fertile shopping territory.
"Consumers are going to have to do a lot more comparison shopping and looking online," San Diego State's Belch said.
Many online retailers will be offering "some very considerable discounts with free shipping," he said. Couple that with not having to pay sales tax in some cases and budgets can be stretched.
The Internet is also the place to look for deals in the bricks and mortar world.
Web sites like www.bfads.net list price cuts retailers plan to offer on Black Friday. Another site, www.coupons.com, has coupons on gifts like Leapfrog game systems, cosmetics and flowers as well as food and personal care products. Freeshipping.com offers members free shipping at many online retailers, and Swaptree.com lets people exchange books, CDs and other items.
There's also regifting, whereby people pass along a new item given to them, for which they had no use. "There's a fairly high amount of regifting going on," Maritz's Krause said.
And there's recycling, which can reap surprises for people shopping at consignment stores and thrift shops.
"There's definitely a movement toward more shopping at lower-priced stores, discount stores, consignment shops," Cohen said.
But those who have their hearts set on shiny new gifts may find they have nothing to lose by just asking for a discount. Some store managers have the authority to offer price cuts at their discretion to move inventory, NPD's Cohen said.
And as you go along, haggle. "There is nothing wrong with going up and saying can you help me out, can you do any better?" he said.
Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Toni Reinhold