NEW YORK — Consumers are planning to spend 4 percent more this holiday season than last year, despite the pressures of rising oil and gas prices — but fashion players better act quickly if they expect to reap the biggest benefit.

Adults anticipate devoting $681 to purchases this holiday, up from $655 in 2004, with the biggest share allocated to apparel, The NPD Group said Tuesday in disclosing the results of a survey of 2,116 people conducted Sept. 12 to 19.

Asked about the timing of their holiday shopping, 41 percent said they’d be finished by early December, and 45 percent said they’d begin before Thanksgiving. In contrast, about one-third — 35 percent — indicated they’d wait until the last minute to buy gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa.

Items people expect to spend the most on, after apparel, are toys, followed by movies (DVD and VHS), consumer electronics, and books, NPD projected.

“This holiday season, we expect consumers to increase their spending on beauty products, such as fragrance, skin care and makeup; sports equipment; apparel; footwear; computer peripherals, and video games,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group. “Consumers are very aware that prices have come down in computers and they intend to purchase about the same number or more of them than last year, without spending as much,” Cohen added, referring to a category that has stolen its share of wallet from fashion goods in recent years. “This year, traditional gifts like apparel will be a bigger piece of the action.”

While apparel has long been the favorite holiday gift purchase, its dominance has been fading. This year, Cohen said, 67 percent of people ages 18 and older expect to buy an apparel present; 51 plan to give a toy; 44 percent anticipate giving consumer electronics; 44 percent, movies, and 39 percent, music.

The allure of gift cards and gift certificates keeps growing, as 40 percent of adults have plans to bestow one, up from 36 percent last year. During holiday 2004, considerably more actually gave one: 49 percent.

Curiously, nearly two-thirds of those polled, or 65 percent, said higher gas or oil prices will have “very little” or “no” effect on their holiday purchasing. About one-quarter, 24 percent, said those costs will have a “great impact” on those expenditures.

This story first appeared in the October 5, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Further describing their holiday spending plans, 51 percent of consumers said they’d comparison shop prior to buying a gift; 48 percent prefer to give presents a person wouldn’t buy for one’s self; 43 percent use ads to guide their shopping, and 37 percent said it’s nicer to give a gift than a gift card or gift certificate.

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