Shoppers may be writing longer "nice" lists for gifts and gatherings this holiday season, according to Deloitte's 33rd annual "Holiday Survey" of consumer spending intentions and trends.
Celebrating the season with others – including entertaining at home and socializing away from home – accounts for 40%, or $611, of survey respondents' holiday-related spending. That outpaces gifts, which make up 34%.
Shoppers plan to purchase an average of 16 gifts and spend $525 on them, up 20% from $430 last year. Gift cards/certificates top the list with 54% of shoppers planning to make this purchase, while clothing comes in at a very close second (53%).
In the spirit of self-gifting, just over half (51%) of respondents say they'll buy for themselves while shopping for others – an increase of 15 percentage points over the last five years. This group also appears to be festive, making food and liquor (42%) the No. 1 item they'll buy for themselves, followed by clothing (40%).
Households plan to spend a total of $1,536 on the holidays this year, across all categories surveyed. The categories are gifts, seasonal entertaining at home or out with others; and non-gift holiday purchases such as holiday décor, home furnishings, non-gift apparel and other holiday-related spending.
This holiday season, 57% of total spend is expected to be online compared with 36% in stores, a drop of 10 percentage points for stores in the last four years.
People will look for inspiration both in the stores and online. Two-thirds (66%) say they'll head to online retailers to do their research, and retail stores and online search engines tied for second place at 56% each.
Online retailers (60% of shoppers) and mass merchant stores (52%) remain the top two shopping destinations, and are growing their lead year over year. They are followed by department stores (32%) and off-price retailers (28%).
While more online shoppers plan to make purchases on their PCs (79%), the number buying on their phones jumped to 67% this year from 59% last year among mobile shoppers.
Holiday bargains keep shoppers merry and bright
More than 4 in 5 people surveyed (82%) say promotions influence their holiday shopping. Nearly all (95%) said price discounts are the most appealing promotional offers, followed by free shipping (75%).
Although more than three quarters of consumers (77%) plan to shop at the same retailers as last year, nearly the same amount (75%) are open to trying new ones. Better prices are the No. 1 reason they'd make a switch to a new retailer.
A lot of purchases may be up for grabs among retailers this season. Nearly half (49%) of respondents say they don't yet have specific items in mind that they plan to buy, whether shopping in-store or online.
Early shoppers are the gift that keeps on giving
"Early shoppers" – those who begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving – account for 60% of respondents and are expected to spend 28%, or $370, more than those who start shopping later.
Retailers will likely see traffic peak in late November (Nov. 16-30) with 72% of consumers planning to make purchases during this time.
Looking ahead to traditional shopping days, 44% of people say they'll rely on Black Friday as they did in the past, while more (53%) will continue to count on Cyber Monday to do their holiday shopping. Reliance on these shopping days is down from last year.
"Almost half the people we surveyed said they think the economy will improve, the highest number we've seen in years," said Rod Sides vice chairman, Deloitte LLP and U.S. retail and distribution leader. "Strong sentiment is a great start, but if you're a retailer, it doesn't guarantee a record season. Respondents indicate they're shopping for a variety of reasons and occasions for themselves and others, and many shoppers remain uncertain about what they'll buy or where they'll buy it. Consumers are making several stops online and in the stores along the way to figure it out. Inspiration and influence are the notes retailers should try to hit this year to stand apart from their competitors."
Sides added, "Although the rate of online sales growth is accelerating faster than that of physical stores, retailers should put resources behind both to be relevant. Online convenience is a way of life for most people, but what a person buys is still influenced by what happens in the store. Shoppers also made it clear that promotions matter this time of year: More than 80 percent of consumers note their shopping will be influenced by promotions. The deals are always attractive, but there are a lot of other points of inspiration that can drive the sale."
This survey was commissioned by Deloitte and conducted online by an independent research company from Sept. 6-13. It polled a national sample of 4,036 consumers and has a margin of error for the entire sample of plus or minus 1 to 2 percentage points.