A closer look at the most recent U.S. retail sales figures may actually indicate negative growth, but a new nationwide survey suggests that the strongest contributor to consumer spending this holiday season could be gay and lesbian households. Is this segment of the American population a key to lasting lasting recovery from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression?

While it is widely reported that U.S. consumer confidence continues to slowly rise, and spending jumped an unexpected 1.3% in November, the the country’s willingness to spend money this holiday season may be far less positive.

Excluding volatile vehicle and gasoline sales, core retail spending was up 0.6 percent. The removal grocery and restaurant sales, spending at retail establishments actually dropped by .8 percent from the same period one year ago.

If U.S. retailers are counting on holiday sales to lift them out of this negative territory, a new Harris Interactive/Witeck-Combs survey may give them the impetus. The survey finds lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) consumers more apt than their heterosexual counterparts to say they’ll increase their expenditures on holiday gifts this year.

It begins with the LBGT consumers’ divergent outlook on financial prospects for the coming months. Thirty-four percent of the survey’s LGBT respondents said they expect their household’s financial condition to be better in the next six months, an optimism shared by only 17 percent of the heterosexual respondents. Likewise, the LGBTs were just half as likely as the remainder of the survey population to say they think their financial condition will worsen during that period (18 percent vs. 36 percent).

The new nationwide survey of 2,516 U.S. adults, (ages 18 and over), of whom 338 self identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender, was conducted online between November 2 and 11, 2009, by Harris Interactive, a global market research and consulting firm, in conjunction with Witeck-Combs Communications, Inc., a strategic public relations and marketing communications firm with special expertise in the LGBT market.

The survey also revealed that compared to what they spent last year on holiday gifts, 29% of LGBT adults plan to spend more. In comparison, only 9% of heterosexual adults plan to spend more.

Compared to what they spent last year on holiday gifts, 45% of LGBT adults plan to spend more on immediate family members, compared to 18% of heterosexual adults. When it comes to close friends, 31% of LGBT adults say they plan to spend more, compared to 8% of non-LGBT adults. Also, 31% of LGBT adults plan to spend more on extended family, compared to only 5% of heterosexual adults.

When it comes to bargain shopping, LGBT adults list it as less of a priority than non-LGBT adults. Only one-third (35%) of LGBT adults said finding the best sales and discounts is important when they are shopping for gifts this holiday season, compared to 65% of heterosexual adults.

“This holiday season, retailers will have to work extra hard to win consumers, all of whom are trying to make their dollars go further,” said Wesley Combs, President of Witeck-Combs Communications. “Smart marketers who welcome LGBT purchasing power, as well as their families’ needs and their sustained optimism about the economy will be ahead of their competitors at the end of this holiday season.”

Some highlights of the survey indicate specific retailers or retail segments that may benefit from this often overlooked segment of the U.S. Consumer population.

When asked where they plan to do their holiday shopping this year compared to where they purchased gifts last holiday season:

Nearly half (47%) of LGBT adults plan to spend more at discount stores (e.g. Wal-Mart, Target), compared to 25% of heterosexual adults.

30% of LGBT adults plan to spend more at warehouse stores (e.g. Costco, B.J.’s), compared to 12% of non-LGBT adults.

A third (34%) of LGBT adults plan to spend more at electronic stores (e.g. Best Buy, Radio Shack), compared to just 8% of heterosexual adults.

30% of LGBT adults plan to spend more at off price stores (e.g. Maxx, Nordstrom Rack), compared to 8% of non-LGBT adults.

One in four (26%) of LGBT adults plan to spend more at mid-tier department stores (e.g. JCPenney, Kohl’s), compared to 8% of heterosexual adults.

28% of LGBT adults plan to spend more at specialty stores (e.g. jewelry stores, pet stores), compared to 5% of non-LGBT adults.

26% of LGBT adults plan to spend more at top-tier department stores (e.g. Saks, Macy’s, Nordstrom), compared to just 3% of heterosexual adults.

How much does the LGBT population have to spend? Their estimated buying power is projected to be $835 billion by 2011.

That’s a Ho Ho Whole lotta money!

So sayeth the StickMonkey.

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