Portrait of man standing and texting on mobile phone. Young African American happy male with little Christmas tree and shopping bags typing on smartphone while snowing. Winter holidays concept

According to PwC’s most recent poll, consumer optimism is showing higher than just a few months ago but is still understandably waning due to widespread economic uncertainty. To understand the impact on the holiday shopping season, PwC surveyed almost 500 consumers across the country about their plans for the holidays.

Compared to the company’s poll taken in October, which found consumers planning to spend $1,248 on the holidays, consumers reported a lower holiday budget of $1,194 just a month later. Still, while overall spending is still expected to be down this year, consumers told PwC they plan to increase budgets for gifts compared to the year before by 9 percent — and expect a 21 percent increase on gift budgets for pets.

In accordance with other, similar reports, PwC found shipping problems have an overwhelmingly negative impact on consumer loyalty. In fact, free shipping was revealed to be the most decisive element of brand loyalty with 68 percent of respondents saying it matters more than free samples, loyalty programs or curbside pickup options. Further 42 percent of consumers told the company it is of “significant importance” when making purchasing decisions.

Notably, free shipping outranked all other benefits across every age group. Discounts for future purchases with loyalty programs followed free shipping in importance with 51 percent of consumers reporting it was important in the purchase decision process while premier access to sales and new products with loyalty programs was named by just 44 percent.

Concurrently, high shipping costs were revealed as the top “deal-breaker” for consumers shopping online by 71 percent of respondents, followed by 59 percent of consumers reporting cybersecurity concerns, 47 percent reporting late package arrivals and 44 percent reporting receiving store credit in place of refunds.

Unsurprisingly, 89 percent of consumers said they will be using Amazon for at least some holiday shopping though notably more young consumers said they are open to outside options. According to the report, the ability to have a purchase shipped directly from a brand’s web site and curbside pickup options when a store is local are among the top reasons younger consumers would change retailer loyalty.

For More WWD Business News: 

Doing the Impossible: Launching a New Product Line During the Holidays

Concern for On-time Deliveries Rise as E-commerce Continues to Boom

Americans Admit to Holiday Shopping Under the Influence