Holiday Shopping Trends: Early Start, Gift Cards

More than 50 percent of holiday shoppers have already begun their search and more consumers than ever before will turn to gift cards this year, according to a series of surveys by the National Retail Federation.

October holiday promotions struck a chord with millions of Americans as 53.8 percent of shoppers say they have already started holiday shopping, according to the NRF’s holiday consumer spending survey. Just 46.2 percent say they have yet to start, the smallest percent in the survey’s history.

"Shopping early has become a very real trend with consumers today as they look for ways to spread out their budget, and retailers have answered their call with attractive holiday offerings as early as October,” says Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer, NRF. “Whether online using free shipping or in-store on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, given the competitive nature of the season, consumers will be the clear winners this year.”

With plans to spend slightly less than last year, consumers will shop for both value and price when checking items off their holiday lists. The most popular choice: clothing and clothing accessories. According to the survey, nearly six in 10 (60.7 percent) consumers will splurge on fashion and apparel items and other accessories.

Eight in 10 (80.6 percent) shoppers plan to add gift cards to their baskets, according to NRF’s Gift Card Spending Survey, with consumers planning to spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards, up 4 percent over last year and the highest amount in the survey’s 11-year history.

Gift cards also topped wish lists with six in 10 (59.4 percent) of those polled saying they’d like to receive gift cards this year, making this the seventh year in a row gift cards have topped holiday celebrants’ wish lists.



Department stores (40.3 percent) and restaurants (34.2 percent) will be the top choices for those giving gift cards, but nearly one in five (19 percent) will give the gift of coffee, up from 13 percent in 2009. Additionally, 20.1 percent will purchase gift cards from an electronic store and 12.7 percent will head to an online merchant.

“Shoppers today recognize gift cards as the perfect fool-proof option for friends and family,” says Shay. “And traditional gift cards aren’t the only winners this holiday season, as more and more Americans are tied to their mobile devices, we expect digital gift cards to be especially popular with consumers.”

Other popular spending categories will include toys (44.3 percent), jewelry (23.3 percent) and sport goods and leisure items (19 percent).

One-third of those polled (33 percent) will buy electronics and/or computer items and accessories, up from 31.8 percent last year and the highest percent seen since 2006.

“Even with smaller budgets this year, consumers will still splurge on popular discretionary gifts for their friends and family, but will shop around and compare prices as they’ve done for years,” says Pam Goodfellow, director, Prosper Consumer Insights, which conducted both surveys. “Looking for inspiration online and on their social media channels, many budget-conscious shoppers will also look for ways to surprise their loved ones with homemade and personal gifts.

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