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c.2013 Houston Chronicle
But also high on the list - including a No. 1 ranking for one week in mid-November - is the sheepskin-lined boot called Ugg Australia.
''Over the past eight years, the Ugg boot has become a holiday tradition rivaling the fruitcake," said Bill Tancer, general manager of global research at Experian Marketing Services, which tracks online product searches.
Despite all the buzz around consumer electronics, apparel has been the No. 1 retail category over the past 20 holiday seasons, and will be this year, too, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group. He acknowledged, though, that its popularity is declining, partly because of the demand for consumer electronics.
''I think apparel will always be a favorite gift because it's intimate and expressive," said Kit Yarrow, professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Apparel's appeal remains despite new challenges, said Sharon Zukin, a Brooklyn College sociology professor and author of "Point of Purchase: How Shopping Changed American Culture." She said people may be overexposed to apparel - "There's just so much of it online and in stores" - even as it has grown more difficult to shop for as a gift.
People dress so casually now, often in T-shirts and jeans, that Zukin said it has become harder to find a special gift.
Consumer electronics, meanwhile, have become both the toys and luxury goods of our time, Zukin said. Unlike apparel, consumer electronics are not gender-specific and gift-givers don't have to worry about getting the wrong style.
Still, Yarrow said, items such as pajamas, robes and slippers remain holiday favorites.
''They are seen as the ultimate cozy and warm gift that translates to caring and nurturing," she said.
Holiday sweaters, coats and boots have a similar appeal and are more expensive, which makes them more of a special treat, she said.
Some consumers are seeking to bridge the worlds of apparel and consumer electronics, Yarrow said. She cited strong sales for gloves with conductive tips, which allow wearers to operate smartphones, and fingerless gloves that are in demand for the same reason.
Betsy Gelb, professor of marketing at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, said part of the appeal of Ugg boots as gifts is that they are so recognizable.
Ugg Australia is a subsidiary of Decker Outdoor Corp., headquartered near Santa Barbara, Calif.
The classic sheepskin Ugg comes in three styles: ankle-length; mid-calf; and one that almost reaches the knee.
An Ugg store opened in the Houston Galleria this summer. The boots are sold at a number of other Houston stores including Dillard's, Whole Earth Provisions and Journey's.
Ugg-style boots were popular among California surfers in the 1970s and later came to represent a casual outdoor lifestyle, company spokeswoman Emma Overkamp said.
Sheepskin boots from other brands are also in demand, as are athletic footwear and high-end sneakers, Cohen said. Active wear is selling well, too, he said.
Representatives of Macy's, Dillard's and Target, major chains operating in the Houston area, report interest this season in apparel items from dresses and sweaters to women's motorcycle jackets to blouses accented with sequins and gems.
The biggest decrease in apparel spending has been among young adults, Cohen said.
But apparel designed for mature women, at department stores and chains including Ann Taylor, is doing better this year, said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of Davidowitz & Associates, a national retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York City.
And as with each holiday shopping season, new items are catching fire. Academy Sports + Outdoors spokesman Allan Rojas reports hunting apparel and other items, including camouflage Crocs, inspired by the "Duck Dynasty" TV show, are all selling well. XXX - End of Story