Fuller Stockings: Americans to Spend More on Holiday Gifts

Listen up Santa: leave the socks and underwear at the North Pole, this year she wants a ring, and a little something for herself.

Presents in shopping bags in living room
Betsie Van der Meer | Stone | Getty Images
Presents in shopping bags in living room

Holiday gift givers are planning to be a bit more generous this holiday season as the economy continues to make a slow recovery, and that’s welcome news because after two years of practical gifts, recipients want a little “bling” in that package.

U.S. consumers are planning to spend an average of $688.87 on holiday-related shopping, a slight increase from last year’s $681.83, but still below pre-recession spending levels, according to the results of a National Retail Federation survey conducted by BIGResearch.

Total spending on gifts is expected to rise 2.1 percent to $518.08 from last year. Not surprisingly, the lion’s share of that spending will go to gifts for family and friends, with about $393.55 budgeted for family and about $71.45 for friends. The rest will be spent on small tokens for co-workers ($18.26) and others ($34.82).

While price discounts and everyday low prices continue to be the most important factors helping to guide holiday purchases, there are signs consumers are starting to have a bit more breathing room when they spend.

One sign was that more of those surveyed placed importance on customer service as the most important factor guiding their shopping decisions, while a larger number than last year cited quality as the key factor.

“Price is paramount during any recession, but when the economy begins to recover other factors take on greater importance,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president of Strategic Initiatives at BIGresearch. “When shoppers consider other factors like customer service and quality in buying decisions, retailers have the ability to highlight a variety of other features to help their company stand out from the competition.”

But consumers still will be shopping smart, with more than one-fourth of Americans reporting that they will use a smartphone to research or make holiday purchases. Among 18-to-24-year-olds the number jumps to 45 percent.

And what should be under the tree?

Gift cards are still the most requested item, with about 57.0 percent of people asking for plastic. But traditional categories such as clothing (48.2 percent) and books (47.3 percent) still top many wish lists this holiday season. Still, the number of people asking for jewelry jumped an eye-popping 10 percent from last year.

Another hopeful sign: more people plan to take advantage of holiday sales to splurge on themselves. About 57.1 percent plan to do so, with the average holiday shopper spending $107.50 on themselves, compared with last year, when only 52.9 percent of shoppers bought something for themselves, with an average of $101.37 in spending.

As for the halls, they will be decked. Spending on holiday decorations, greeting cards, candy, food and flowers is up slightly from last year, with the bulk of the budget for these items spent on candy and food ($86.32) and decorations ($41.51).

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