Practicality marks boomers' wish lists

Posted: Thursday, December 06, 2001

They might be known as the ''me'' generation, the yuppies, the ones living in a material world. But not so this holiday shopping season as spendthrift baby boomers decide less is more.

Amid a slumping economy and stock market and with the United States retaliating for the Sept. 11 terror attacks, tisn't the season for loading up on gifts.

Even boomers, known during the holidays for giving and receiving such luxuries as leather coats, widescreen TVs and fine jewelry, are cutting back.

''We're not buying thousands of gifts,'' said Amy Gray, a speech therapist who lives in suburban Philadelphia. ''Material possessions have lost a lot of interest for me. ... And my stocks are down.''

While this holiday retail season is expected to be the worst since 1990 when sales were flat, shoppers haven't turned into Scrooge. Rather, practicality rather than excess will rule the holidays.

Retailers were already expecting consumers, already downtrodden from 18 months of a weakening economy, to spend more cautiously. So, stores stocked up on the basics-- sweaters and corduroy pants, rather than party dresses.

Since the attacks, people have stayed closer to home, eaten out less and curtailed vacations and that, analysts said, has boosted sales of such family-oriented items as TVs, DVD players and kitchen appliances.

''This is a Christmas that is clearly moving away from conspicuous consumption,'' said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Reach Marketing, a consulting firm in Westport, Conn. ''The gift-giving won't be penny-pinching. It will be practical and much more modest than in previous years.''

Noel Schumann is one of the boomers whose wish list includes useful rather than frivolous items.

''I'm getting a computer. It's something I need,'' said Schumann, a homemaker in the Chicago suburb of Lake Barrington.

Likewise, Patricia Quigley, a university administrator from outside Philadelphia, wants a new printer for her home office.

''I dropped my printer, and it's hard to feed pages through one at a time and I am in a master's in writing program,'' Quigley said.

Pricey presents must have a purpose, Flickinger said, which is why digital cameras, DVD players and expensive cookware are highly sought after.

Digital cameras, which enable users to e-mail photos and range in price from $99 to $750, are probably the most popular gift this season, Flickinger said.

''Digital cameras are going to be a big part of the business. ... It has become the cool gift,'' especially for boomers, Flickinger said. ''They are time starved and often can't get to class reunions or family reunions. A big part of communication is online rather than on land.''

DVD players, which allow movies played on a disc rather than VHS tapes and which cost between $99 and $600, are having their second straight strong holiday season.

''DVD players are just off the charts. ... There is no way to keep up with demand this December,'' said Flickinger, adding that consumers are choosing to ramp up their home entertainment systems while putting off vacation plans.

Proof of how popular DVD sales are with boomers can be seen in the much-touted release of The Godfather trilogy -- a boomer favorite since the first movie was released in 1972 -- in a five-disc box set, which retails at about $105.

Big-ticket kitchenware is also popular with boomers seeking practicality along with ways to spend more time at home with family since the terror attacks, Flickinger said. High on cooks' wish lists are heavy, professional-quality pots and pans. Nine-piece sets by brands such as Calphalon and All-Clad run at least $500; individual pots and pans, about $50.

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