NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Looking for your big gift on Christmas morning, but nothing's under the tree? Check the stocking.
As big-ticket items get smaller and small-item holiday spending swells like overstuffed hosiery, the stocking has gone from secondary item hung by the chimney with care to center stage on Christmas morning. With ComScore (SCOR) putting overall holiday spending at $28.4 billion, or 12% more than the same time last year, the stocking once reserved for candy canes and gag gifts could be hanging much heavier with pint-sized presents from Apple (AAPL) , Amazon (AMZN) , Barnes & Noble (BKS) and Starbucks (SBUX) and others this year.
"If you look at the last 15 to 20 years, the most popular holiday gifts have shrunk," says Amy Sewell, lifestyle expert for Shop With Style. "You have iPods, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, electronic games and gift cards; the things that are in the most popular gift categories are things that fit nicely into the stocking."
"My husband and I only do stockings for each other and don't even wrap gifts to put under the tree," Sewell says. "Years ago, my mother decided 'Hey, let's all do stockings,' but then she got carried away and bought me this gigantic stocking that I could have fit into."
While there's no definitive source for stocking-specific sales, a quick look at consumer spending suggests some Americans will need a bigger sock. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent $23.6 billion on gift cards during the 2009 holiday season. That averages out to $139.91 spent per shopper on 3.5 gift cards worth $39.80 each. Though that's down from $147.33 per person the year before, 57% of foundation responders asked for gift cards this season, while 53% of those surveyed in the American Express (AXP) Spending and Savings Tracker said they planned to give them.
That $140 is a nice haul for a sock, but it's more significant when stuffed in with a $139 Kindle e-reader, a $170 Nintendo DSi XL hand-held game console or $829 64-gigabyte 3G iPad.