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In tough economy, pricey items still hot for the holidays

COVINGTON - Even though many have been hit hard by the economic downturn, stores still are seeing high-priced items on their top sales lists this holiday season.

"Kids are wanting $150 iPods instead of a $10 toy these days," said Covington Kmart Manager Don Buckner.

He said so far this shopping season, the store is seeing most sales in its electronics department, as well as in ladies apparel and, of course, toys.

This year, the International Council of Shopping Centers reported that toys like Elmo Live, Bratz dolls and Guitar Hero games are some hot items for many kids this holiday. Also, "Hannah Montana" and "High School Musical" items and gaming systems are popular among children and teens.

In electronics, the ICSC reported that digital picture frames, iPods, GPS navigation systems, digital cameras and high-definition televisions are popular gifts this year.

Sought-after apparel and accessories include scarves, hats, bright-colored clothing, embellished jeans and boots, the council reported.

To get the best deal on items, shopping experts are telling consumers to give homemade gifts, shop in thrift stores and buy from local merchants, rather than putting gifts on credit cards.

"With the sobering effect of the economy looming over this holiday season, consumers are going to have to be creative with their dollar and be more conscious of their spending in order to avoid a holiday hangover," said Steve Cox, a Better Business Bureau spokesman.

Online shopping also is becoming more popular with offers of free shipping and other deals - but it could cost shoppers if their computers aren't protected and they don't use secure and trustworthy Web sites.

"Many consumers have come to feel extremely comfortable shopping online as part of their everyday lives and simply don't consider the increased threat of identity theft or unscrupulous retailers during the holiday season," Cox said. "While the online environment has become a thriving, trusted marketplace, e-commerce has also opened a door and created a ripe environment for scammers to set up shop online and start ripping people off."

Gift cards also are popular gifts and stocking stuffers, but consumer analysts are warning all parties to read the fine print for expiration dates and be careful buying them from stores that are going out of business.

"Cold hard cash is going to be on a lot of wish lists this year," Cox said. "Pre-paid bank cards can be a great way to give money, but givers and receivers need to pay special attention to the terms and conditions, which can include substantial fees and limitations."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.