The Best And Worst Holiday Gifts In Stores This Year

Forbes
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Forget the fiscal cliff and global economic woes, shoppers have been out in force since beginning the holiday gifting season on Thanksgiving. The National Retail Federation reports that a record 247 million shoppers hit up stores and websites over Black Friday weekend and plunked down an estimated $59.1 billion on a bevy of items for the special people in their lives.

In keeping with the traditional retail theory that men buy and women shop, a Kelton survey for RetailMeNot, an online coupon site, finds that guys are planning to be generous givers this year, spending an average of $215 per person on gifts, while women clock in an $131 per person.

That doesn’t mean that men will be scouring shops and websites for that perfect item. Instead, the NRF found that men will be shelling out most of their dollars on gift cards, spending $172.98 versus women’s $141.66. Though store cards get low marks on the thoughtfulness meter, a whopping 81% of shoppers  will purchase at least one this year and total spending on gift cards is expected to top $28.79 billion, according to an NRF survey.

In Pictures: The Best Holiday Gifts For 2012

Clothing and accessories are the most covetable indulgences for more than half of the consumers surveyed by RetailMeNot. Still, selecting something as simple as a scarf can turn out to be a tougher call than a well-meaning Santa’s helper may think. More than a third of Americans are sensitive to prickly fibers --even if they are not 100% wool-- not to mention very particular about styles and colors for just about every sweater, shirt or trousers they wear.

RetailMeNot found that 86% of working adults plan to shop online during business hours this year. It’s no surprise that parents are most likely to hit up e-commerce sites while at their desks. Besides not having to deal with squalling siblings, scouring the web for hard to find items keeps the element of surprise for the big day.

If you’re still on the fence about what to gift others (or request for yourself this year) Forbes polled the experts and pored over a plethora of choices to bring you the biggest hits and misses of the season. On the hit side of the ledger for children, the National Retail Federation says that this year gadgets are taking second (or third) place behind more traditional Barbie dolls and LEGO sets that promise to have staying power in kids' affections.

In Pictures: The Worst Holiday Gifts For 2012

Among critics’ pans: the Furby. The updated version of the furry late '90s craze is in short supply or sold out at major retailers. That’s probably a good thing. Though it boasts a hefty $54 price tag (perhaps to compensate for new features) the talking toy lacks a simple on/off switch. Made to chatter --at people, iPads, and other Furbys-- the only way to disengage is to pull out its batteries.

Similarly, the Wii U is flying out of stores, but several reviewers rate it a skip. Its GamePad unit has poor battery life, writes Jeff Balaker of CNET, and its "lack of compelling exclusive software and an overall unpolished user experience make it tough to recommend in its current state.”



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Holiday Hit: For Kids

At a time when splashy electronics are filling stores the gifts figuring prominently on letters to Santa are old-fashioned classics. The National Retail Federation found that gadgets are taking second (or third) place behind more traditional Barbie dolls and LEGO sets. “This year’s top toys are trendy and new, but also have some staying power, meaning children won’t get bored with them within a few weeks,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. That’s good news for the almost 80% of parents who say that even kids who land on Santa’s “naughty” list will get the same number of toys for Christmas, according to a Walmart holiday survey.

Holiday Hit: For Entertainment
Televisions are second only to tablets on family wish lists this year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, and size definitely matters. Nearly 75% of shoppers who are planning to purchase a TV for the holidays are looking at screens larger that 40 inches. Panasonic’s plasma TC-P55ST50 gets high marks for color, clarity and chic styling from a variety of expert reviewers at PC Magazine, CNET, AOL On Tech, among others. With 55-inch screen and a $1200 price tag, it also scores high marks for value for its size.

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Holiday Hit: For Home

On cold mornings when a jolt of joe is required to go out and get a cup of coffee, it would be great to be able to press a button and dispense a shot of espresso. No wonder retail industry analysts at the NPD Group say single serve brewing systems are one the hottest kitchen trends. “Premium quality, aspirational, and innovative products have received the attention of consumers who are seeking long-term value or a little luxury,” says Debra Mednick, executive director of NPD Group’s home division. “Holiday promotions are their opportunity to maximize that value even further, whether it applies to their own home or someone else’s,” Mednick notes.

Holiday Hit: For Her
"Stand-out accessories like jewelry and bags are always a win for the holidays — especially when they're coming from a brand like Rebecca Minkoff, says Connie Wang, global editor of Refinery29’s fashion and e-commerce site. A statement handbag that’s luxurious yet easy to wear with a variety of looks is a surefire win, she says adding, “This Minkoff Mini MAC will get you extra brownie points this season."

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Holiday Hit: For Him

“Gift sets have often provided a somewhat stress-free purchase for the shopper to get in and out of the madness that surrounds shopping during the holiday season,” Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst of the NPD Group, says. “And it’s not just fragrance anymore, sets are now among the hottest areas in makeup and skincare too,” she adds. From Axe and Old Spice to prestige designer spritzes, fragrance sets continue to be the ‘go-to’ gift for men. Sales of manly scents saw double the dollar growth of women’s this year, according to NPD Group.

Holiday Miss: It's the (Lack of) Thought That Counts

They may be a one-size-fits-all solution for sticky giving situations, but despite topping the National Retail Federation’s list of trendy items for 2012, you can bet the recipient will be a little nonplussed when opening this gift card envelope. (Is it any wonder they’re most popular with teens, that most apathetic demographic? Though retailers are trying to make them more personal with artful graphics, they’re easier than ever to buy online or with a smartphone or even at the checkout in a supermarket. Do you really want your gift to announce, “I made this purchase in 20 seconds?”

Holiday Miss: Fashion Don't
"It may seem totally appropriate to gift a dress to your fashion-obsessed friend for the holidays,” says Connie Wang of Refinery29, “But dresses are the trickiest item to buy for anyone other than yourself.” Avoid this fashion faux pas at all costs, she cautions. “From the sizing to the color to the style, each element of dresses are super-personal. Do not attempt to read minds."

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Holiday Miss: Play At Your Own Risk

Everything old is new again --literally. Furby, the hot toy of 1998 has been reintroduced for a new generation of kids who find its shock of colorful fur and large, round eyes irresistible. So much so, that the creature is in short supply or sold out at major retailers. That’s probably a good thing. Though it boasts a hefty $54 price tag (perhaps to compensate for new features) the talking toy is lacking a simple on/off switch. Made to chatter --at people, iPads, and other Furbys-- the only way to disengage is to pull out its batteries.

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Holiday Miss: Not So Fun

If early sales are an indicator, Nintendo Wii U is already a hit. Nintendo reported that it sold nearly half a million consoles in the first week after it landed on store shelves. Starting at $300, the latest high-definition game console has new features and services including connectivity to Nintendo’s new social gaming network, access to Netflix movies and TV shows, and a 6.2-inch touch-screen.

Jeff Balakar at CNET says that’s not quite enough to make the grade. In addition to a short battery life on the Game Pad, he writes, “Despite some clever dual-screen gaming mechanics, the Wii U's lack of compelling exclusive software and an overall unpolished user experience make it tough to recommend in its current state.” Wired’s Game/Life editor Chris Kohler offers a bunch of other reasons to “hate” the new system.

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Holiday Miss: Too Pricey

In sharp contrast to its splashy advertising campaigns, Microsoft’s Surface tablet is hardly making waves in retail. CEO Steve Ballmer reported that sales of the company’s first tablet “are starting modestly” but are still in short supply. Sales of Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire prove that consumers are looking for low-cost alternatives to the iPad, yet at $499, Surface doesn’t add that much value.
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