More than 40 per cent of consumers plan to spend less on Christmas presents this year than they did in 2008 as families, chastened by more than a year of straitened finances, plan a low-key festive season.

A survey by TNS Omnibus, the market researchers, found that 41 per cent of people planned to spend less on presents this Christmas than last.

The data suggested that, although last year was widely seen as an austerity Christmas, belt-tightening will be considerably more marked this year – spelling a bleak festive season for retailers.

“I think people really are starting to rein in,” said Sue Homeyard, managing director of information services at TNS. “People have had over a year of being in a financial environment which is more challenging than they have ever had. People have been affected in various ways. Some [have seen their] salary reduced, there could be a member of the family that has not been bringing in an income. I expect now it’s really starting to hurt.”

TNS pessimism on Christmas was echoed by Verdict, the retail research group, which found that more than a third of people planned to spend less on all aspects of Christmas, including gifts and food.

A survey by Verdict found that 35.4 per cent of people planned to spend less on Christmas this year, with almost 16 per cent saying they planned to spend much less.

It also discovered a gender divide, with 41 per cent of women planning to spend less, while only 29 per cent of men said they would be cutting back.

“Men are obviously being a little bit less frugal,” said Neil Saunders, consulting director of Verdict.

Across the high street there were signs that retailers were altering their offerings to tap into the mood of frugality. Asda, Britain’s second biggest supermarket, was offering a Christmas dinner for four people for £22.

B&Q, whose Christmas products will hit stores on Friday, will stock more products in its lowest price category, including Christmas decorations, trees and lights, while Superdrug, the health and beauty retailer, said it planned to include more three-for-two offers this year.

Not all retailers were downbeat about Christmas, however. John Lewis said since its Christmas selections went into stores on October 4, sales of Christmas products were up 15 per cent on the same period last year. Sales of food gifts were up 32 per cent, Christmas cards were up 13 per cent and sales of advent calendars were up 97 per cent.

Nat Wakely, director of selling operations at John Lewis, said Britons had been too consumed by the financial crisis last October and November to think about Christmas shopping.

“People last year were not thinking about Christmas at this stage. They were wondering what was going on in the world,” he said.

TNS also found that almost 20 per cent of shoppers planned to start their Christmas shopping earlier to spread the cost over a longer period.

Many retailers have scaled back on their stock levels, in anticipation that tough times will continue.

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