October 2, 2008 / 1:12 PM / 10 years ago

Wealthy Americans' gift spending to drop: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Affluent and wealthy Americans plan to tighten their purse strings a little this holiday season amid concerns about the financial crisis and worries they could run out of money, a poll showed on Thursday.

Shoppers look at a display window at luxury goods retailer Bergdorf Goodman in New York, November 21, 2007. REUTERS/Jacob Silberberg

Although the American Express Publishing/Harrison Group poll found nearly 80 percent of people earning more than $100,000 plan to spend the same or more on gifts, it forecast a 6 percent drop in total gift spending by that group.

The September 19-23 Internet survey of 614 people representing affluent consumers, who make up 10 percent of American families, estimated total holiday gift spending by that group would be about $22 billion.

“What makes the survey a source of concern is that this top 10 percent represents over 50 percent of all retail spending,” Jim Taylor, vice chairman of Harrison Group, a Connecticut-based marketing and research consulting firm, said in a statement.

“It is affluent consumers who have kept the consumer economy afloat and whose purchasing is critical to the coming holiday season,” he said.

The poll showed three quarters believe the United States is in a recession and 60 percent believe it will last longer than a year. Two thirds are also worried they could “at some point run out of money,” up from 45 percent in April.

And while half “think a few luxuries are important in tough times,” that figure is down from 61 percent in June.

“It is a mixed story,” said Cara David, co-director of the study and senior vice-president of Strategic Insights, Marketing and Sales at American Express Publishing. “People are cutting luxury, but they are not eliminating luxury.”

“Instead of buying the same number of designer gowns or handbags or bracelets, they will buy gifts of greater meaning, but fewer in each category,” David said. “This will have an effect at the cash register, but it is an effect mitigated by an increasing desire to live a good life, where the good life includes a healthy mix of values-based shopping and giving.”

More than 60 percent of the respondents said they are buying fewer so-called “big ticket items” than six months ago, up about 6 percentage points from the June survey, while 83 percent said they usually wait for an item to go on sale before buying, steady compared to the June and April polls but up from 67 percent from December.

“Only 2 percent of our respondents report eliminating luxury all together,” the poll found.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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