Washington—American consumers are likely to throw their cautiousness to the wind this holiday season, upping the amount they plan to spend.
According to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Spending Survey,, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average person celebrating Christmas, Kwanza and/or Hanukkah will spend $804.42, up nearly 5% over last year’s actual $767.27. NRF and Prosper’s spending survey is now in its 13th year.
“Americans’ frugal spending habits will still be visible this holiday season as they continue to rely on discounts and sales and comparison shop,” said NRF President/CEO Matthew Shaw. “Consumers will put retailers to the test when it comes to the product mix and value companies can offer today’s shopper who is focused on much more than just price.”
Shoppers Shift Budgets
The survey found consumers will spend an average of $459.87 on gifts for their family, up 6.5% from $432 last year, and $80 on gifts for friends, up from $75 last year. Those celebrating the holidays will also spend more on gifts for their co-workers ($26.23 vs. $24.52 in 2013), and others like their babysitter and even their pets ($30.43 vs. $26.65).
Spending on traditional items such as decorations and food will remain flat: according to the survey, consumers will spend an average of $104.74 on food, $53.68 on decorations and $29.18 on greeting cards and $20.30 on flowers.
One of the more popular trends in recent years–self-gifting–will decrease this year as shoppers opt to shift their budgets towards spending on others: 56.9% of holiday shoppers say they plan to take advantage of sales and discounts to purchase non-gift items for themselves or others, and will spend an average of $126.68, down from $134.77 last year.
Big Focus on Mobile, Online Shopping
If it wasn’t official last year, it will be this year–holiday shoppers are eager to shop online for their gifts and other needs. According to the survey, 56% plan to shop online, up from 51.5% last year and the most in the survey’s 13-year history. Additionally, the average person plans to do 44.4% of their shopping online, the most since NRF first asked in 2006.
Looking for great prices and value as they shop around for holiday items, many consumers will visit discount (61.9%), department (59.7%) and grocery stores (51.2%). Others will head to clothing or accessories stores (36.7%), electronics (30.8%), drug (19.2%) and craft and fabric stores (18.8%).
As mobile grows in use and scope, consumers this holiday season will turn to their on-the-go devices for a plethora of reasons. The survey found the majority of smartphone owners (55.7%) will use their device in some fashion, up from 53.8% last year. Specifically, 35.8% will research products/prices, the highest amount in the four years NRF has been asking. Nearly one-quarter (23.9%) will redeem coupons and 19.1% will actually purchase items – another survey high.
Comfortable Purchasing on Mobile Devices
Almost two-thirds (63.2%) of tablet owners will use their device to research and purchase holiday items, which is the same as last holiday season. Nearly half (47.4%) will research products and one-third (33%) will purchase items.
For the first time, NRF asked consumers about their comfort level using a smartphone or tablet to pay for merchandise at a store check-out counter. According to the survey, 27.4% said they would be somewhat or very comfortable; however, two in five (41.9%) say they are not very or not at all comfortable paying for items that way.
Broken out by age, 41.1% of 25 to 34 year olds are somewhat or very comfortable using their device to pay for items at the register, compared to just 14.4% of those 65+. Men are much more likely to feel comfortable with the technology (32.6% vs. 22.5% of women.)
Spread Out Spending
Early-bird shoppers have already been out and about this year. The survey found four in 10 (40.4%) begin their holiday shopping before Halloween–consistent with more than 10 years of survey findings. The survey also found 40.9% will begin in November, up slightly from 38.8% percent last year, and 15.5% will begin in the first two weeks of December, flat with 16% last year.
When asked why they begin shopping for the holiday season as early as September, most agree it helps them spread out their spending (61.9%). Half choose to do so to avoid holiday crowds (51.7%), and another 51% say shopping early helps them avoid the stress of last-minute shopping. Nearly three in 10 (29.9%) say they shop for the holiday season year-round, and more than one-quarter (27.3%) say the desire to get their hands on specific items drives them to shop early; unsurprisingly, 44.7% shop early because the deals and promotions are too good to pass up.
Deciding Where to Shop
When it comes to why consumers chose to shop where they do during the holiday season, retailers should take heed: one-quarter of shoppers say easy-to-use mobile websites is an important factor in their decision to shop with a specific retailer. Those polled also say free shipping/shipping promotions (42.3%) are important factors. Consumers add that helpful, knowledgeable customer service (30.3%), convenient locations (47.9%), low prices (41.2%) and sales or price discounts (74.7%) also aid in their decision to shop at a particular retailer.
As the market becomes more competitive than ever before, retailers in recent years have begun to stress quality and selection of merchandise, and shoppers are paying attention: according to the survey, six in 10 say quality of merchandise (60.9%) and selection of merchandise (59.4%) are important factors in their decision to shop somewhere.
“Even with expectations for increased spending this year, smart shopping strategies will be very important to those celebrating the holidays,” said Prosper’s Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow. “Overall, consumers feel better about where they stand compared to a year ago, and as such could find themselves stretching their dollars to give their loved ones a holiday season to remember. Retailers, however, should still expect to see high demand for sales, coupons and other promotions as shoppers focus on ‘what’s in it for them’.”
Gift Cards, Jewelry high on Wish Lists
For the eighth year in a row gift cards are the most requested gift item among those celebrating the holidays. According to the survey, 62% say they’d most like to receive a gift card, followed by clothing (52.5%), books, CDs, DVDs or video games (43.1%), and electronics (34.6%). One-quarter (24.8%) say they’d like to receive jewelry, up from 23.3% last year.
When asked if the state of the U.S. economy would impact their holiday spending plans, four in 10 (41.4%) said yes, down almost 20% from last year and the lowest amount since NRF first asked in 2009. Of those who said yes, most agree they will compensate by spending less overall (75.6%). Others will shop for sales more often (49.0%), comparison shop online more often (34.4%), use coupons more often (37%), buy more practical gifts (28.4%) and use last year’s decorations (24.8%).
NRF is forecasting holiday sales to increase 4.1%.
About the Survey
The NRF 2014 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey was designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to the winter holidays. The survey polled 7,547 consumers and was conducted for NRF by Prosper Insights & Analytics, October 1 to 7. The consumer poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.