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US holiday shoppers carefully treat themselves

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Reuters
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today Nov 30, 2009
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By Jessica Wohl

CHICAGO, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Call it the season of self-gifting.

Women shoppers freshened up their own wardrobes over the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend after more than a year of frugality, but did so cautiously.



"Even when they're buying for themselves they are still looking out for value, and so they're still not spending as much as they used to," said Eric Beder, a retail analyst with a focus on specialty apparel and apparel manufacturers at Brean Murray, Carret & Co.

Many consumers had skipped trips to the mall and bought only necessities, such as clothing for growing children, as the recession set in last year. When it came to their own wardrobes, women shopped inside their closets to save money.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, including Black Friday, women shoppers showed they were still very selective about new acquisitions, with unemployment running over 10 percent and the path of the economy uncertain.

Total sales over the weekend edged up only 0.5 percent, and consumer spent less per person, dimming investor hopes for a rebound over the holiday season.

Janet McDonald of Prince Frederick, Maryland, is spending more on herself this year. Her husband was unemployed last Christmas. Now he has a job, she believes the economy is improving and said she feels better as a stock investor.

"I already bought a coat and a suit. This year I won't worry about spending as much," McDonald said as she shopped at the Springfield Mall, in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

Muriel Scott, a retiree who lives in Florida, said she would do pretty much the same Christmas shopping that she had always done. Still, the 84-year old treated herself to a new pocketbook while she shopped at a Filene's store during her Thanksgiving weekend trip to Washington, D.C.

Hana Belachew, a 20-year old student, searched Filene's in Washington for clothing for herself, not for gifts.

"I'm trying to get a leather jacket," she said. "Some of the clothes are a little expensive."

Investors remain skeptical that apparel chains catering to more mature women will benefit from looser purse strings. Apparel stocks largely fell on Monday 30 November, including an 8 percent decline for Talbots Inc (TLB.N) and a 3.7 percent drop for AnnTaylor (ANN.N).

"I don't think that's been enough really to make Wall Street truly excited about what went on and for the holiday season," said Beder.

"FRUGAL FATIGUE" NOT JUST ABOUT CLOTHING

Sixty-one percent of consumers said they were buying for themselves as well as buying gifts, according to Marshal Cohen, senior analyst at retail consultancy NPD Group.

"Consumers are just basically saying 'I've got some pent up demand, I'm tired of not having bought anything for myself,'" Cohen said as he surveyed shoppers throughout the weekend.

He called the trend "frugal fatigue" and said apparel and electronics were popular categories for self-gifting.

Trisha Weeks, 34, dropped off her husband in the home appliances section of Macy's in downtown San Francisco on Sunday 29 November so she could look for a purse for herself.

"I don't usually shop for myself but I figured I'd indulge," the Oakland, California, resident said.

"I was looking online at Amazon.com (AMZN.O), but Macy's (M.N) had better prices," she said, saying she planned on buying a toaster and some other kitchen equipment.

The shift in women, in particular, spending on themselves has already driven sales in the past quarter for retailers such as Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N), JC Penney Co Inc (JCP.N) and Chico's FAS Inc (CHS.N).

Retailers focused on differentiated, fashionable items, such as J Crew (JCG.N), Urban Outfitters Inc's (URBN.O) namesake stores and its Anthropologie chain, have a good mix of items and do not have to drive traffic with price cuts, Beder said, adding that low cost chains should also do well.

Christine Tucker from Philadelphia, said she was spending less on herself and more on her grandchild this season.

"I look at the prices. I'm not spending anything on myself right now," Tucker said during her trip to a mall on Saturday 28 November.

Still, she said she would not give up shopping at Lane Bryant, a women's apparel retailer that sells plus-sized clothing and is owned by Charming Shoppes Inc (CHRS.O).

"They use good material, it doesn't shrink." (With reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington, Martinne Geller in New York, Tom Hals in Pennsylvania and Alexandria Sage in San Francisco; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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