October 18, 2011, 4:43 PM

Holiday shopping lists move online

36% of all holiday shopping tasks will happen online this season.

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36% of all holiday shopping tasks, including checking prices, researching and buying products, will happen online this season, up from 32.7% last year, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, released today. And more consumers will make purchases with online retailers this year than last.

The trade group surveyed more than 8,500 U.S. consumers earlier this month to find out how much consumers expect to spend this holiday season and where they intend to spend it. The survey says consumers this season will spend an average of $704.18 on gifts and seasonal merchandise, including holiday decorations, greeting cards and candy, down 2.1% from $718.98 last year. Consumers say they will spend an average of $515.94 on gifts for others this season, down 4.6% from $540.73 in the same survey last year.

The NRF survey finds that 46.7% of respondents say they’ll purchase holiday items online this season, up from 43.9% a year ago, and those consumers who include the web in their shopping plans will spend more than the average consumer. Online shoppers will spend an average of $857.59, or 21.7% more than the average consumer, on gifts and seasonal merchandise. Online shoppers will spend an average of $636.28 on gifts for others, 23.3% more than the average consumer. Online shoppers will do slightly more than half (50.5%) of their holday shopping--including checking prices, researching products and making purchases--online this year. Year over year comparable data was not available for online shopping frequency or spending.

The trade group forecasts total retail spending during November and December will reach $465.6 billion, up 2.8% from last year. The trade group did not forecast how much of those sales will happen online, but a holiday forecast released last month by Kantar Retail estimated U.S. web sales during the fourth quarter will reach $60.4 billion, up 13.5% from last year.

The results of a separate holiday survey released this week by GfK Custom Research North America says 40% of U.S. households plan to spend less during the 2011 holiday shopping season. 44% will spend about the same amount as last year and 11% will spend more than last year; 5% had no answer or did not know. GfK based its results on September survey responses from more than 1,000 U.S. adults.

The GfK survey also found that 39% of consumers plan to look to social networks and online discount operators such as Groupon and LivingSocial before purchasing.

Consumers also will use smartphones and tablet computers as shopping aids this season. Nearly 40% of the consumers surveyed by the NRF say they own a smartphone, and more than half, or 52.6%, say they will use it to help them shop this season. 31% say they’ll use it to research or compare prices, 14.1% will complete a purchase on their phones, 17.3% will use mobile phones to redeem coupons and 15.6% will use smartphone apps to research or complete a purchase.  10.5% of survey respondents say they own a tablet computer such as an iPad; 70.5% of those consumers say they plan to research products with it and 34.8% say they’ll make a purchase on a tablet.

Consumers cite sale and price discounts (41.6%) and selection (18.0%) as the top two most important factors in convincing them to shop with a particular retailer during the holidays. Online shoppers cite these factors at a slightly higher rate: 42.2% cite sale and price discounts and 20.4% cite selection as the most important factors in convincing them to shop with a retailer during the holidays. “Shoppers are meticulously calculating the best ways to stretch their dollar,” says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation.

That includes making smart purchases when bargains present themselves. 59.9% of consumers say they intend to take advantage of price discounts and make non-gift purchases for themselves or family members this season, up from 57.1% who said the same last year. Those consumers say they’ll spend an average of $217.89 on these purchases, up from $196.46 a year ago. 65.6% of online shoppers say they'll do the same and spend an average of $249.40 doing so, 14.5% more than the average consumer.

Online shoppers also start their holiday shopping sooner than the average consumer. 21.1% of online shoppers say they started their holiday shopping by the end of September, whereas 18.6% of all respondents did. 

When it comes to gifts, 50.0% of respondents hope for clothing and accessories, 44.4% want books, CDs, DVDs or video games, and 35.4% desire consumer electronics or computer-related accessories.

But Santa may well lighten his sleigh load this season if he pays attention to the results of the survey. 57.7% of consumers want gift cards or gift certificates as holidays presents. It is the highest demand recorded in the survey’s history for gift cards or certificates. 

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