By  on October 24, 2012

Consumers will balance a shift towards thrift with generally better feelings about the economy and their own financial prospects, ac- cording to two surveys on holiday spending re- leased wednesday.

The studies, from Deloitte and Accenture, carry mixed messages for retailers hoping to capi- talize on their biggest selling opportunities of the year. both indicate a greater sense of security among consumers about issues ranging from per- sonal finances to the nation’s economy while sug- gesting a stubborn attachment to shopping for dis- counts and, increasingly, using the tools of tablet and smartphone technology to get the best deals.

The Deloitte study, which included online re- sponses from nearly 5,100 u.s. consumers, shows a 2.3 percent dip in the average amount consumers intend to spend on gifts, to $386 this year from $395 in 2011, coupled with a decline in the number of gifts they intend to give, which fell to 12.8 this year from 14.7 last year and a 2007 high of 23.1.

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However, the number of respondents who in- tend to spend less this year fell to 37 percent, the lowest level since 2006, and the share expect- ing improvement in the economy next year rose strongly to 50 percent from 33 percent a year ago.

“Consumers appear to be turning a corner and are more confident about the economy,” said Alison Paul, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP and leader of its retail and distribution sector. “Recent improvements in housing, employment and the stock market may have buoyed their spirits, but their optimism is somewhat tempered as they keep an eye on energy costs and possible tax increases.”

The upcoming election could “initially distract” shoppers, she noted, but a strong rebound is expected once electoral questions are put to rest in two weeks. Clothing and gift cards are the most popular gift items, selected by 51 and 47 percent of respective respondents, up from 48 and 45 percent in 2011.

Omnichannel shoppers will be a boon to stores this season, with the average expenditure by con- sumers who will use the internet, smartphones and stores pegged at $600, 71 percent higher than for those who expect to do all their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores.

Deloitte last month projected a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in retail spending this holiday season to between $920 billion and $925 billion from $889 billion last year. The sales figures don’t include automotive or gas purchases.

The Accenture survey, drawing on a smaller sample of 500 respondents, found expected holiday expenditures at $582, 16.4 percent above last year’s level, with 52 percent of respondents expected to boost their spending by $250 or more and 23 per- cent expected to spend more than $750. Despite their increased propensity to spend, only 5 percent characterized their buying plans as “extravagant” and just 8 percent said they intend to “splurge.”

more than half of shoppers — 56 percent — will engage in “showrooming,” previewing mer- chandise in a store and then resorting to online postings to seek out the best price. Twenty-seven percent of the showroom fans said they would likely make the purchase on a smartphone or tab- let while still out shopping.

even if more confident about the economy, the Accenture sample was being careful to avoid holi- day accumulations of debt. more than half — 51 percent of respondents — intend to make their pur- chases for the season with cash they put aside for that purpose, up from 45 percent last year. exactly one-third intend to make their purchases on a credit card, down dramatically from 47 percent last year.

“many consumers are still struggling to balance their household budgets, at the same time that pay raises and bonuses remain in short supply, and they are realizing that this is not a short-term phenom- enon,” said Chris Donnelly, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. “Consumers will remain resistant to the impulse purchase and retailers will have to work harder to secure that extra spend by having a unique product, service or experience and being clear on the value to the customer.”

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