Strong consumer confidence and low unemployment have combined to produce a 5 percent increase in anticipated holiday spending, according to brand loyalty and consumer engagement research consultancy Brand Keys’ annual survey of 11,625 shoppers for an average spend of $985 per household.

What gifts are consumers planning to buy?

“Gift cards have become as universal as greeting cards,” said Brand Keys founder and president Robert Passikoff, in a news release. “Nearly everyone (96 percent) indicated they’ll buy at least one gift card this year.”

Consumers indicated they plan to buy gifts in the following categories. Changes from last year appear in parentheses:

  • Clothing and Accessories 83% (- 2%)
  • Personal Care Products/Spa 60% (+5%)
  • Electronics/Phones/Computer 52% (+4%)
  • Kitchen/Cookware/Appliances 46% (+1%)
  • Toys 31% (+1%)
  • Jewelry 30% (+5%)
  • Food & Beverages 25% (- 1%)
  • Home Décor 15% (+5%)
  • Books 15% (+5%)
  • Tools 12% (+2%)
  • Sporting Goods 11% (+1%)

Which retailers will profit most?

Virtually all consumers interviewed (98 percent) are buying online again this year. “Online has become the default venue for browsing, promotions, price checks and, ultimately, buying holiday gifts,” noted Passikoff. Consumers intend to use 3+ multiple shopping venues again this year:

  • Discount Department Stores 90% (– 5% change from 2017)
  • Specialty & Apparel Stores 70% (– 3)
  • Traditional Department Stores 80% (+ 7)
  • Electronics 30% (+ 5)
  • Price Clubs 22% (– 2)
  • Sporting Goods Stores 19% (+ 1)
  • Outlet Stores 15% (—-)

Catalogues (6 percent), are down again another 2 percent. “If a consumer can get the same content on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, they regard hard-copy as subordinate to digital and essentially superfluous,” Passikoff said.

Consumers opt for “Black November” shopping

Earlier shopping has become the ‘new normal’ for the holidays,” said Passikoff. “More than half the respondents (55 percent) indicated they’ve already shopped or intend to shop before the traditional Black Friday.” Retailers have acknowledged these shifts in the consumer-shopping paradigm, and are acting on them with earlier and earlier ‘Black Friday-like’ sales. “We call it, ‘Black November.’”

  • Before September 5% (+1%)
  • September 10% (+3%)
  • October 15% (- 1%)
  • November (Pre-Black Friday) 25% (+3%)
  • Black Friday 20% (- 5%)
  • December 25% (+5%)

“Black Friday still represents a retail raison d’être, and even a ‘tradition’ in some families, but it is fast becoming a relic of 20th century retailing,” added Passikoff.

Besides gifts, what do consumers seek?

Just as in holiday seasons past, value is paramount. Consumer expectations for brand outreach and convenience are up again. “Retailers that provide a sense of consumer comfort, confidence and shopping ease will see fatter bottom lines. Free shipping and returns, order online-pickup-in-store or ship-to-store options will have holiday shoppers’ attentions again this year,” Passikoff said.

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