Holiday Shoppers Tighten Their Purse Strings: Survey

Is Wall Street on Santa's List? 'So Many Uncertainties'
Gansovsky Vladislav | Vetta | Getty Images

While many believe the economy has improved compared to this time last year, Americans remain conservative in their holiday shopping plans.

Can you blame them?

After all, the fiscal cliff is looming and unemployment remains just under eight percent. The CNBC All-America Economic Survey reveals the holiday shopper plans to spend an average of $742 on gifts this year, down slightly from last year's intent to spend $751. (Read More: Fiscal Cliff, Complete Coverage)

Where Are Consumers Shopping?

When it comes to where most of the shopping will be done, big box stores like Wal-Mart or or Best Buy reign supreme. Of those surveyed, 39 percent say they plan to do or have done most of their holiday shopping at the big box retailers, though the percentage has fallen from 42 percent in 2011.

The internet takes the number two spot with 28 percent planning to do most of their holiday shopping online, up just one percentage point from last year. (Read More: Merry Shoppers, Shallow Pockets)

Department stores like Macy's or Sears come in at number three with 23 percent, which is regaining some ground from last year with just 19 percent said department stores would be the destination of choice.

The Season's Hottest Gift

Many retail analysts will tell you the hot item this Christmas is the tablet, and the survey shows 21 percent of shoppers do plan to buy a tablet in the next three months.

Of those who plan to buy a tablet in the next three months, the Apple iPad is the favorite with 7 percent, followed by the Android tablet and the Amazon Kindle tied with 3 percent each. But digging a little deeper into the data, reveals a much closer race between the iPad and the Android among 18 to 34 year olds, where 8 percent plan to buy the iPad in the next three months, and 7 percent plan to purchase an Android tablet. (Read More: Apple's iPad Owns Tablet Market...But Not For Long)

America Goes Mobile

Increasingly, Americans shop with their phones both in and outside stores. The survey shows 27 percent of Americans used their cell phones in stores to look for a lower price, up 24 percent from a year ago. The detailed data reveals a larger digital divide between younger and richer shoppers widening with older and poorer. 50 percent of 18-to-34 year olds have used their cell phone or mobile device to compare prices while in store compared to 38 percent of 35 to 49 year olds, and just 10 percent of 50 to 64 year olds.

And while it may seem ironic, 57 percent consumers making more than $100,000 used their cell phones to check for lower prices while in store compared to just 15 percent of those making less than $30,000. After all, saving money is saving money no matter what income level. (Read More: Holiday Central, Complete Coverage)

When it comes to actually purchasing goods or services (other than music, mobile apps and e-books) on a mobile device, 25 percent of adults have done it up from 16 percent a year ago, and again by more younger and wealthier consumers. 42 percent of 18-to-34 year olds have made a purchase on a mobile device compared to 30 percent of 25-49 year olds and 15 percent of 50 to 64 years olds.

The highest salaried consumers use their phones more frequently to make purchases: 47 percent of those making $100,00 or more have used their mobile devices to make purchases compared to just 6 percent of those making less than $30,000 a year.

-By CNBC's Courtney Reagan; Follow her on Twitter: @CourtReagan