Cautious Consumers Cut Holiday Gift Budgets

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Cautious Consumers Cut Holiday Gift Budgets


Consumers are planning to spend less and shop early this holiday season, according to National Retail Federation’s holiday consumer spending survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. The average holiday shopper will spend $737.95 on gifts, décor, greeting cards and more, 2 percent less than the $752.24 they spent last year.

NRF is forecasting holiday sales will increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion. “We expect consumers to set a modest budget for gifts and other holiday related purchases as they wait and see what will become of the U.S. economy in the coming months,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

NRF asked holiday shoppers if the political gridlock in Washington around U.S. fiscal concerns would affect their holiday spending plans. On average, 29 percent of respondents said the situation would somewhat or very likely affect their spending plans. Nearly one-third (32.7 percent) of those between the ages of 55 and 64 said political gridlock in Washington was somewhat or very likely to affect their spending, the highest percent among all age groups surveyed.

When asked specifically about the overall state of the economy and how it would affect their spending plans, 51 percent of consumers said the economy would in some way impact how they spend this holiday season. Specifically, 79.5 percent plan to spend less overall, looking to cut corners and tighten budgets where they can.

Cutbacks in Self-Gifting

Also, consumers will cut back on “self-gifting,” or treating themselves to something. When asked if they plan to take advantage of sales or price discounts during the holiday season to make additional non-gift purchases, 57 percent said yes, down from 59 percent in 2012. Self-gifters will spend an average of $129.62 this year, down from a survey high of $140.43 last year and $137.17 in 2011.

According to the survey, the biggest portion of shoppers’ budget will go toward gifts for family members, with the average person planning to spend $415.50 on mom, dad and other loved ones, down slightly from the actual $423.36 they spent last year. Additionally, people will spend $72.14 on friends, $23.59 on co-workers and $25.63 on others, such as pets and community members.

Consumers will also spend on food and candy ($100.35), greeting cards ($28.03) and flowers ($21.12). When it comes to decorations, the average person will spend $51.60. Total spending on holiday décor will reach $6.8 billion.

“Consumers have had years of practice when it comes to managing tight budgets while still spending on items they need to, whether it be gifts or groceries for the family,” said Prosper Insights Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow. “Retailers can expect to see practical and refined attitudes from their customers this holiday season as families make thoughtful decisions about what they need to buy and what they can pass on.”

Shoppers Are Buying Gifts Now

Consistent with results seen the past 11 years, 41.2 percent of Americans say they will begin holiday shopping before Halloween. Specifically, 12.4 percent say they started before September, 8.2 percent began in September, and 20.6 percent will begin in October. Almost 39 percent will begin in November and 16 percent plan to start shopping in the first two weeks of December while 3.9 percent will wait until last minute and shop in the last two weeks of the month.

For the first time NRF asked shoppers why they shop early for holiday items. Of those who shop prior to or in September and October, six in 10 (60.3 percent) do so to spread out their gift shopping budget. Another four in 10 (41.9 percent) said the prices and promotions are too good to pass up. Additionally, 46.5 percent shop early to avoid the crowds associated with November and December shopping, and 44.2 percent do so to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping.

40 Percent Will Buy Online

Consumers will look to discounters (64.7 percent), department stores (56.3 percent) and grocery stores (51.1 percent) for their gifts and goods this holiday season. More than half (51.5 percent) will shop online.

Whether to comparison shop or look for deals on their mobile device while out and about, the Internet will play a crucial role for retailers and shoppers this year. The average person will complete about 39.5 percent of their shopping on retail and other company websites, up from 38.8 percent last year and the highest amount in the survey’s history.

In related news,, NRF’s digital division, is forecasting online holiday sales will grow between 13 and 15 percent to as much as $82 billion.

Smartphones, Tablets to Aid in Holiday Purchases

As retailers improve their mobile websites and company apps, more people are drawn to the convenience of shopping using their mobile and tablet devices. According to the survey, more than half (56.3 percent) of holiday shoppers say they own a smartphone, and more than one-third (34 percent) own a tablet – both significantly higher than this time last year. Of those who own a smartphone, 53.8 percent will use their device to look up store hours, compare prices and purchase products; six in 10 (63.2 percent) tablet owners will use their device to shop, compare prices and look up product information.

Most Wanted: Gift Cards

When it comes to holiday wish lists, gift cards take the prize once again as the most requested gift item for the seventh year in a row. According to the survey, six in 10 (59.4 percent) Americans say they’d most like to receive gift cards. After a few years on the backburner, clothing and clothing accessories will fill holiday celebrants’ wish lists with more than half (51.2 percent) requesting these items, up from 49.1 percent last year and the highest amount seen since 2006.

More than one-third (36.1 percent) want electronics, one-quarter (23.3 percent) want jewelry and 20.8 percent want home decor or home-related furnishings.

Sales, Discounts Drive Shopping Decisions

Holiday shoppers fine-tune their skills each holiday season in order to maneuver the stores, discover the best free-shipping deals and perfect their hassle-free shopping experience. When it comes to decisions like where to shop, price and promotions are top-of-mind. According to the survey, 35.6 percent said the most important factor in deciding where to shop are offers for sales and discounts, along with 16.4 percent who say the most important factor is selection of merchandise and 13.6 percent who say it’s quality of merchandise. Three percent (3.4 percent) rate free shipping or shipping promotions as the most important factor, up from 2.9 percent last year.

The NRF 2013 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey was designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to the winter holidays. The survey polled 6,415 consumers and was conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics, Oct. 1-8.