Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Nieman Marcus again offers gifts that few could buy

DPA , LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

The world economy may be improving, but most ordinary Americans will still be unable to afford the gifts featured this year by swanky US retailer Neiman Marcus in its annual Christmas Book.

The spectacular offerings include a US$12 million LearJet 60 and a set of "His and Hers Robots." This US$400,000 duo are adult-sized state-of the-art machines that, according to the Texas-based retailer, will not only do housework, but more importantly for owners who can probably afford an entire crew of maids, the robots "will be the life of any party."

More "modest" gifts offered for the people who have everything include a special limited edition BMW 645Ci Coupe for "just" US$75,170, or a grand-scale piece of custom-created environmental art for your ranch or country house for 160,000 dollars and up. Slightly more modest, but infinitely more eccentric is an individually-fitted mermaid suit for US$10,000.

With choices like these it can be hard to find the right gift. Perhaps that's whyet this year. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that adult consumers will buy an average of six electronic gifts this Christmas.

Over recent years the DVD player has reigned supreme as the most popular tech gift, but with most American families already owning disc players, many other gadgets will also mysteriously appear under Christmas trees around the country.

Digital music players like Apple's iPod will be huge, especially since most can now be easily used with legal music download sites, while plasma and LCD screen televisions will be flying off the shelves.

With good desktop and laptop computers now available for well under 1,000 dollars, they are the most popular gift choice for US teens, whose other top choices according to the CEA are game consoles and cellphones.

In Los Angeles, local papers are predicting that Botox treatments will be popular.

But the craze for the wrinkle-elimination facial injections has yet to spread across the country and there are few must-have fashion or lifestyle items like the Pashmima shawls of last year or the patriotic themed gifts that dominated 2001.

Maybe that's why there is only one present sure to satisfy both time-challenged buyers and choosy recipients: the practical but decidedly unromantic gift card, which allows the recipient to purchase whatever they want up to the denominated value.

According to the National Retail Federation about half of Americans say they'd rather choose their own presents.

Many will get their wish this year with US$18 billion worth of cards expected to be bought before Christmas Day.

The cards will be loaded with an average of US$34 spending money each and the total market is about 10 percent of all retail holiday sales.

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