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NEW CANAAN, CT-The gifts of “Christmas Past”–apparel and toys – have been replaced by gifts of “Christmas Present”–consumer electronics and home-oriented products, according to the latest studyby Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy based here.

Christmas gifting is no longer about softline merchandise; rather, hardlines have taken over, says CGP president Craig Johnson. Based on the US Department of Commerce statistics, “Christmas Present” items exceeded “Christmas Past” by 15% in 2000, and he says that hardline gifting increased its lead to more than 80%.

The share of softlines, which consists of apparel, accessories and home furnishings, in the holiday market has dramatically decreased since the 1990s, Johnson noted in a company statement, declining frommore than 30% in 1992 to barely 20% today.

Johnson said: “When my parents had their first retail jobs in the 1940s, apparel items were by far the most common Christmas gift. When I first entered retail in the 1970s, apparel was still king. But beginning strongly in the 1990s, the twin engines of hardlines growth–mass-market consumer electronics and home improvement items have far outpaced apparel, whether at the holiday season or the rest of the year.”

The declining apparel trend is also supported by Census Bureau household expenditures data, contends CGP. Johnson noted that of the three basic human needs of shelter, food and clothing, shelter and food have held steady at about 20% and 14%, respectively, as ashare of household expenditures, while apparel has declined from a 10% share a generation ago to below 5% today. He pointed out that traditional “stars” of the Holiday season such as cashmere sweaters have lost their cache since they’re available at the warehouseclubs.

Consumer electronics are now the stars with the Apple iPod selling 30 million units this year alone, and the Microsoft Xbox sold out before it hit the shelves. The Motorola Razr and new ROKR phones were also big hits this holiday season, according to CGP, as were LCD flat-screen TVs, plasma flat screens and laptop computers.

“For over 2000 years—since before Cleopatra—females have overwhelmingly used clothing to express themselves and their style,” Johnson stated. “Beginning a few years back with the rise of thecellphone, PDAs and iPods, women from 14 to 34 are expressing style not in the clothes they wear, but the technology they use.”

For women who are 35 years or older, he contended that they are defining style in their homes. From a home improvement perspective, energy-efficient appliances and devices, snow throwers, power tools and fireplace equipment stood out as strong performers this holidayseason.

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