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Nielsen Forecasts Coal in Your Stocking

This holiday season is shaping up to be every bit the product of the sustained economic downturn and shaken consumer confidence that have prevailed throughout 2009, according to a new analysis by Nielsen.

The research company canvassed consumers about their shopping plans for the holidays, and 42 percent of the respondents said they planned to spend less this year than last, compared to just 4 percent who said they planned to spend more.

Nielsen's survey found that the e-commerce sector could be in for an especially disappointing season, as just 63 percent of consumers polled said they planned to shop online this year. That's down from 71 percent of respondents in a similar survey Nielsen conducted last year, and 73 percent in 2007.

"While the economy appears to be improving at a snail's pace, it's apparent that many consumers intend to spend less and save more this holiday season," Ken Cessar, vice president of industry insights at the Nielsen Company, said in a blog post describing the survey.

Nielsen also found a higher percentage of consumers who said they would not make an e-commerce purchases this year, and an increased number of respondents who said they planned to spend less online this year than in years past.

For instance, 42 percent of the respondents to last year's survey said they planned to spend more than $300 online over the holiday season. This year, that figure dropped to 31 percent, and 22 percent of consumers polled said they planned to spend less than $100 online.

If Nielsen's survey bears out, it would continue an e-commerce contraction that began last year, when online holiday spending dipped 3 percent from the previous year, according to online metrics firm comScore. That marked the first sequential decline in the e-commerce sector since 2001, and in part reversed the momentum that had been building through the decade as online shopping marched steadily toward the mainstream of consumer activity.

Respondents to Nielsen's survey said that convenience was the strongest draw for shopping online rather than heading out to the stores, identifying price as a secondary concern.

However, many consumers said they used the Internet as a tool for comparison shopping, scouring retailers' Web sites for pricing and product information as they plan their shopping trip.

"Although many consumers don't feel that they save money by making purchases online, they do view the Internet as a deal-seeking venue," Cessar said.