Expenditure on Christmas present hits pounds 75 per child

Seasonal spending: Survey reveals regional gift gap as retailers pin their hopes on key products to capture elusive business
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The Independent Online

With only 16 shopping days to Christmas, if you are hoping for a good present this year you should cultivate your 25-year-old female relatives in the Midlands.

As harassed parents around Britain rush to buy Baywatch Barbies, Power Rangers, Action Men and Pogs in the final countdown to Christmas they can muse on the fact that the British spend pounds 7bn on Christmas, so their children can look forward to an average pounds 75-worth of presents each.

The Touche Ross Christmas Retail Survey 1995 estimates the average consumer will be shelling out pounds 440 this year, being careful not to spend more than last year. The biggest share - pounds 234 - goes on gifts followed by pounds 132 on food and drink and pounds 74 on other items.

The highest spending area overall is the North-west, where people will spend nearly pounds 50 more than Londoners on gifts and pounds 40 more on food and drink than the Welsh. Those after a good present, however, should think of moving to the Midlands, where people will fork out pounds 255 on gifts alone. Londoners will be spending below average - pounds 410 in total - because of higher-than- average concern about job security. The peace process appears to be paying dividends, with Ulster voted by retailers as the region most likely to perform better than last year.

Women will spend more on gifts than men and the highest spending group will be 25- to 34-year-olds. Those between 25 and 44 will spend most on toys, with favourites such as Pogs - small laminated discs with holograms - and Action Man.

The 45- to 64-year age group will spend most on clothes and over-65s will go for food and drink. Spending on presents by parents with children aged between five and nine will, hardly surprisingly, be more than double that by couples without children.

What they will be spending it on, according to the hype, are the latest CD-Rom computer games. Clive Vaughan, retail consultant for the analysts Verdict, said that Power Rangers, last year's favourites, were still going strong but the crucial difference to retailers' prospects of success this Christmas was the launch of new games by Sega and Sony "trying to revive the computer games boom of 1993".

Sony's Playstation, a new-generation 32-bit system, shifted 50,000 units within five weeks of its launch. It has now sold 85,000 and Sony claims it will sell 130,000 by Christmas - mainly to men in their mid-20s.

Sega, which has dominated the British market, says that its rival 32-bit Saturn games system has sold about 60,000 and will sell 80-85,000 by Christmas "at a conservative estimate". Both are now priced at pounds 299, with games costing between pounds 40 and pounds 50.

But while consumers may know what they want, the Touche Ross survey suggests that stores are badly out of step. While retailers believe that out-of- town, factory-outlet and television home shopping will take a larger share away from the high street, 60 per cent of consumers are planning to buy their Christmas presents in the high street or at department stores.

What people look for when shopping also seems to be at variance with those organising it. Customers say they want a larger selection of goods with a convenient location followed by low prices. Retailers think that customers' priorities are customer service, quality and better availability of stock.

Mr Vaughan said it was a worrying time for retailers as consumers left it later and later to do their Christmas shopping:

"Most retailers are holding their breath waiting for something to happen. There's a lot of nervousness that customers do not seem to be spending," he said.

This could well aid the consumer, he added: "There will be some bargains around. The more consumers leave it to the last minute before committing to spend, the more panicky retailers will get and there'll be good pre- Christmas sales."

If you have not even got as far as making a Christmas list, do not worry. Apparently a third of us leave our shopping to the last two weeks and more than one in ten wait until the last possible week.