December 23, 2011, 9:57 AM

A holiday spending use case

Consumer intention surveys indicate I overspent, but I’m not buying it.

Deloitte, the consulting firm, and the National Retail Federation trade group fielded separate surveys this fall that gauged how much consumers thought they’d spend this holiday season, and where and how they’d spend it. I looked at the survey results again this morning after I crossed the last name off my “nice” list, with an eye toward how my own holiday spending measured up.

I started my holiday shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I finished yesterday, three days before Christmas. I bought gifts (including a few for me) for nine people and two canines. The damage: $1,238.53. That total is over index according to both surveys. The Deloitte survey said consumers would spend an average of $395 on gifts for others and $135 on non-gift clothing items for self or family this season. If I take out my one real splurge item—an iPad 2 I ordered online on Black Friday—my spending is a little more in line with what respondents to the NRF survey said about anticipated spending. That survey said consumers planned to spend an average of $515.94 on gifts for others this season, and an additional $217.89 on non-gift purchases for themselves. I didn’t go into the season with any kind of budget in mind, but I don’t think my spending was exorbitant, which leads me to wonder whether all these survey respondents’ actions actually matched their intentions. I kind of doubt they did, as the iPad sitting under my Christmas tree is just one of approximately 13.5 million iPads analysts expected Apple to sell during Q4.

65% of my total spending went to seven online retailers, four of which are e-retailers in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, with the largest single chunk going to Apple. I was new to two of the web retailers I bought from, and the purchasing experiences I had with these much smaller e-retailers were just as satisfactory as the ones I had with the larger e-retailers that I already knew. I purchased gifts from an additional five bricks-and-mortar stores.

Other Deloitte survey points say 16% of consumers in my age bracket would complete between 51% and 75% of their holiday spending online like I did. The average across all age groups was 33%. The convenience of web shopping and the wide product selection, which came in as the No. 1 and No. 4 reasons why consumers said they’d increase their online shopping this year, were the key reasons I did more than half my shopping online. Finding better prices, No. 2 in the survey, played a part, but I willingly paid full price for a few items online just to be able to cross them off my list without having to spend an afternoon navigating the mall. For the two e-retailers I had never purchased from before, I did quick Google searches for ‘retailer name, coupon code’ before completing the checkout process. In one case it saved me 10%; in the other I nabbed free shipping (bringing my total spent on shipping this season to a whopping $4). All the e-retailers I had previously shopped with lured me to visit through e-mail messages they sent. I didn’t look to Facebook or Twitter even once for savings or offers, although I have accounts with both. 

There was just one instance where an e-retailer (I’m looking at you Macys.com) lost business it could have had to a store. I was searching for a specific style and color of handbag and I was able to navigate to a nice selection on Macys.com, but I found the product pages and product photos didn’t provide the level of detail that made me confident enough to purchase. I ended up in a shop (not Macy’s) where I dug through tables of handbags and got a product in my hands.

Stores captured some of my gift spending as a given, largely because I can’t fathom making friends and relatives go through an online returns process if they didn’t like their gift or it didn’t fit. So I did visit one mall, stood in line behind a half-dozen other shoppers and waited to pay for my grandfather’s gift. Standing there it occurred to me that I could have bought what I was holding online, and he still could have returned it in store if he needed to because the retailer, Kohl’s, lets consumers return online purchases in its stores. That’s one more gift I can shift to the online list next year.

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