Consumers Stay Stingy on Big-Ticket Buys

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Retailers, it may officially be time to worry.

The beginning of the typically lucrative holiday shopping season is less than two months away, but even as the economy shows signs of recovery consumers are still planning to keep their belts tight, according to a new survey by Harris Interactive.

Most notably, the findings show how little has changed for Americans. Even two years after the group began tracking consumers’ intended spending habits, the percentage of consumers who plan to make big-ticket purchases in the next six months has remained steady. The percentage planning to buy a new computer, for instance, stands at 21%, a number that has not strayed by more than a few percentage points for the past two years. And just 12% plan to buy a new car or truck in the coming months, a number that has not changed since December 2009.

There is a silver lining to the new numbers, the first since the survey was conducted in May. The percentage of Americans planning to start a new business rose from 6% to 10%, and the same percentage also intend to purchase a house or condo during the next six months, up from 7% in May. And while there are no big plans to increase spending anytime soon, the percentage of consumers planning to decrease spending on entertainment and dining out has likewise remained roughly constant.

Still, on the whole, consumers seem skittish about loosening their purse strings, and that holding pattern doesn’t bode well for the economy, Harris says. “[The numbers] strongly suggest that a substantial change in consumer spending is unlikely in the near future, that in the absence of increased spending economic growth will be sluggish and that unemployment is unlikely to decline in the next few months,” the organization concludes.

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