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Holiday Shoppers Plan to Buy More Gifts for Themselves

Wednesday, 19 Oct 2011 | 12:05 AM ET

Merry Christmas to me!

Holiday shoppers plan to take advantage of the discounts that come along with the Christmas holiday season to stock up on items for themselves, according to the findings a new survey.

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Holiday shoppers plan to spend less on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise this year — about $704 per person, compared to $719 last year. But they will spend more money on non-gift items for themselves and their family, according to the findings of a survey conducted by BigResearch on behalf of retail industry trade group, the National Retail Federation.

The average person will spend about $130.43 on such items this holiday season, that's up from $112.20 in 2010.

This trend speaks to the desire consumers have to stretch their money in this tough economy, where unemployment remains high and income stagnant. Consumers know the deals are coming, and they want to take advantage of them.

It is also in keeping with the NRF’s holiday forecast, which they issued earlier this month, for holiday retail sales to grow 2.8 percent during the months of November and December to $465.6 billion.

Focus on Value

NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said retailers will likely try to appeal to this consumer mood.

“Knowing their customers are more focused than ever on value, retailers will entice shoppers with promotions that go beyond discounts, whether they’re touting free gifts with purchase, an extended warranty, or stellar customer service,” Shay said, in a press release.

Since consumers are still very concerned about their budget, discount stores — a category that includes stores such as Wal-Mart and Target — are expected to see slightly more customers than they did last year as will department stores with unique private-label offerings, the NRF said. Examples of such department stores include Macy's and Kohl's .

“In 2009 it was all about personal, practical gifts, and last year consumers wanted to treat their loved ones to something special — this year, it’s a little bit of both,” said Pam Goodfellow, director of Consumer Insights at BigResearch. “Limited budgets and a desire to make the most of the gift-giving will drive consumers to shop at a variety of retailers while also thinking outside the box for great gift ideas.”

More Meaningful Gifts

This isn’t the first survey this season to reflect a desire to give more meaningful gifts. A poll conducted by Harrison Group and American Express Publishing found that affluent consumers were focused on their relationships and experiences rather than material gifts this holiday season. The majority of the consumers, who had discretionary household income of between $100,000 to more than $1 million, said they would spend less this holiday season.

However, the drop in spending doesn’t reflect a fear about the economy, the Harrison survey said. Instead, the majority of those who are looking to buy fewer gifts said they were doing so because they “just don’t need as much stuff.” That response was up 14 points from last year. In 2010, the number one response to this question was “worried about the economy” and, interestingly, that response is down 21 points in 2011, from 68 percent to 47 percent.

In addition, a significant chunk of the affluent said they would splurge on themselves while they were doing their holiday shopping.

Americans Want Gift Cards

Maybe that’s because Americans fear they won’t get the gifts they want.

For the fifth year in a row, and at the highest level in the NRF’s survey’s history, 57.7 percent of shoppers said they want to receive a gift card this holiday season.

The NRF also asked about online and mobile shopping patterns and found a continuation of the trend of shoppers doing more shopping online and on mobile devices.

Nearly half plan to make a purchase online, up from 43.9 percent last year. Also, the average shopper plans to do about 36 percent of their shopping online. This includes researching products and making a purchase.

Among adults aged 25 to 34 years old, the percentage is even higher. This group, which likely includes many households with young children, will complete about 43.7 percent of their shopping online, the most of any age group.

As for smartphone owners, about 52.6 percent will use their devices to assist with holiday shopping. One third said they would use their phone to research product and compare prices, 14.1 percent said they would purchase products using their device, 17.3 percent would redeem coupons and 15.6 percent will use apps to research or purchase items. A quarter will use their phone to look up store hours and locations.

But shoppers who have an iPad or other tablet device will be even more likely to use it as a shopping aid. Seven in 10 tablet owners plan to research and shop with their device.

Mobile shopping skews younger than online shopping does. It’s the adults aged 18 to 24 years old who are the making the most use of their smartphones for shopping. About 72.2 percent of this age group will use their smartphones and 86.4 percent will use their tablets to shop for holiday items this year.

And the shopping has already begun. About 39 percent of consumers say they will start their holiday shopping before Halloween.

The NRF 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey polled 8,585 consumers between Oct. 4 and Oct. 11.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com.

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