Bloomingdale's 2015 holiday window display.

Citing improved household finances, a consumer poll conducted by private-label credit card firm Synchrony Financial and RTi Research found shoppers more confident this year and willing to spend more, but they’re still somewhat cautious and will be sticking to a spending budget.

Sanjay Sidhwani, senior vice president of marketing analytics for Synchrony Financial, said shoppers indicated “they have more to spend and more to buy this season, influenced by their underlying confidence about their personal finances. This is similar to other insights we’ve gathered, showing shopper optimism is balanced with a spending plan and sales research to stretch dollars further and maximize discounts and rewards.”

The company is forecasting holiday retail sales to rise 3.6 percent this year. The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 3.7 percent gain.

“Nearly half – 47 percent – of those surveyed indicate they are more confident in their financial situation than last year (which was 37 percent), and 48 percent plan to start their holiday shopping earlier this year,” the report authors noted, adding that “improved finances and larger gift lists” are why 32 percent of respondents plan to spend more this year, which compares to 21 percent last year.

“At the same time, over half (53 percent) of participants set a holiday budget and 76 percent report they always comparison shop to ensure the best price,” the researchers said. Additionally, respondents said they will be focused on getting deals, and 39 percent expect to do so on Black Friday. Of those expecting to spend more this year, 90 percent said they intend to shop on “special sale days.” Apparel, toys, electronics, footwear and gift cards “are key gift-buying categories,” the firm said, adding that 33 percent will start holiday shopping prior to Black Friday.

“Online research is an important part of the purchase process, especially for higher-ticket items,” the researchers said. “Specifically, survey participants plan to purchase online more home improvement and electronics items in the $500-plus category.” Regarding channels, 70 percent of respondents said online was easier and the most important reasons for buying online “include free shipping, price and convenience.” It’s important to note that while online sales are growing at a double-digit rate, 51 percent of those polled said “they typically find out about holiday sales from their newspaper.”

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