Holiday Central

Holiday shoppers will spend less on loved ones, buy more for themselves

Customers carry boxes of UGG shoes while shopping in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.
Emile Wamsteker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The average consumer plans to spend less on gifts for their family, friends and co-workers this year. But there's one person on their list they won't be skimping on: themselves.

Roughly 58 percent of consumers said they'll use the holidays to scoop up discounted items for themselves, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. That's up 2 percentage points from last year.

They also plan to spend more. Shoppers who will buy items for themselves said they'll spend an average $139.61 doing so, marking a 4 percent increase from 2015. That's also the second-highest level of personal spending in the survey's 13-year history.

Self-purchases are typically considered a sign of economic strength, as confident consumers are more comfortable adding unplanned items to their baskets. The only other time shoppers spent more on themselves during the holidays was in 2012, when they spent an average $140.43, according to NRF.

This year's survey was based on the responses of more than 7,700 shoppers.

"This is a trend that's growing strongly," said Mark Mathews, vice president of research development and industry analysis for the National Retail Federation. "It's increased almost 50 percent over the last 10 years."

The trade organization's findings fall in line with its broader holiday forecast. According to that prediction, which is based on economic fundamentals, retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline and restaurants are seen rising 3.6 percent in November and December. That would signal an acceleration from last year's 3.2 percent growth.

Yet in its consumer survey, shoppers signaled they may pull back a bit on their overall spending. Respondents told the trade group they'd burn through an average $935.58, down roughly 2 percent from last year's survey high of $952.58.

Mathews said this result did not come as a surprise, given ongoing noise about the election when the survey was conducted late October. Several Wall Street analysts expect spending to pick up now that the distraction of campaign rhetoric has passed, though there are other issues at bay.

In a note to investors Monday, Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow said that store traffic declined 7 percent during the first two weeks of November, which was a "meaningful deceleration" from October's 4 percent decline. Yet while "election noise" likely contributed to that dip, it hasn't been the only issue, Boruchow noted.

"While election day itself tends to be a positive catalyst for traffic (as many shoppers either leave work early or take the day off and have more free time for shopping), week 2 only improved to -6 percent," he said. "We also believe that weather has played a part, as temperatures were higher."

The millennial generation, whose members are entering the job market and starting to climb the corporate ladder, is expected to lead the trend in non-gift buying. According to NRF, 73 percent of 18- to 34-year-old shoppers plan to make one of these purchases, compared with 60 percent of 35- to 54-year-olds, and 44 percent of people ages 55 and older.

Still, the debt-ridden generation will spend less on themselves than the 35- to 54-year-old cohort, at $148.46 versus $161.21, on average.

A separate survey by Deloitte found that 46 percent of shoppers plan to buy gifts for themselves when they're out shopping for others, down 4 points from last year. That's because they're able to capitalize on year-round discounts and promotions, meaning they don't have to rely as heavily on Black Friday-type deals, the firm's Rod Sides said.

Despite the slight dip, 2016's self-spending plans marked the second-highest percentage in the survey's five-year history. Deloitte's results were based on a poll of roughly 5,000 shoppers.