NEW YORK — Consumers plan to spend an average of $163 each on apparel gifts this holiday season, 6 percent less than last year, though a higher percentage of people intend to buy in the category, according to a new research study. Apparel is the only one of seven leading sectors projected to see an increase in purchases.

The 2004 Holiday Consumer Survey of the NPD Group, a marketing information company, found that 66 percent of adults anticipate buying apparel gifts, compared with 62 percent last year, maintaining the category as the favorite from which to bestow gifts. Two-thirds of women and 57 percent of men intend to buy clothing gifts.

“People will be migrating to less-expensive apparel — fast fashion at a price — in part to free up dollars for electronics,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group.

The average amount customers plan to spend on apparel marks a decline from $174 in 2003.

Forty-nine percent of holiday gift shoppers intend to buy toys, down from 52 percent a year ago; 45 percent expect to give movies on DVD and videotape, off slightly from 46 percent; 40 percent anticipate purchasing books, flat with the previous year; 35 percent plan to give music, versus 36 percent; 30 percent foresee giving jewelry, compared with 33 percent, and 25 percent aim to give fragrances, against 27 percent.

The $163 that consumers plan to spend on apparel places the category fifth among holiday gift budget priorities, after top-ranked computers, for which they intend to shell out $920 on average; electronics, $231; cameras, $202 and jewelry, $169.

The apparel spending projection represents 25 percent of the average $655 that adults plan to spend on gifts this holiday, up from $637 last year, resulting in spending of $30 billion on the category overall, NPD found. NPD did not furnish an overall holiday spending estimate.

The National Retail Federation, by comparison, is forecasting consumers will spend an average of $702 on gifts for the season, resulting in overall holiday spending of $219.9 billion. NRF did not forecast how much people plan to spend on apparel this holiday in the data disclosed Wednesday.

This story first appeared in the October 21, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“Consumers are willing to buy different kinds of fashions, dressier styles, this holiday,” including tailored clothing, woven, rather than knit shirts, and accessories such as scarves, ties and business backpacks, Cohen said.

The more money people make, the more likely they are to give gifts of apparel: 69 percent of those with annual income of more than $75,000 anticipate doing so compared with 51 percent of those with annual income of less than $25,000, NPD reported.

About 25 percent of holiday shoppers canvassed by NPD plan to shop at apparel specialty stores, including 24 percent of women and 25 percent of men, making it the 10th most popular shopping venue among women and ninth most popular overall.

“The specialty chains are doing a lot more marketing than the fashion brands, and I expect them to connect better with consumers this holiday,” Cohen said. “Specialty apparel stores, [low-priced] fast-fashion stores and discount stores are expected to do better than department stores.”

Shoppers will spend the bulk of their holiday budgets on family gifts, spending an average of $406.52 compared with $71.29 for friends, according to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey of 7,861 people polled Oct. 5-14.

The NPD Holiday Consumer Survey findings are based on interviews with 2,372 members of NPD Group’s online consumer panel, conducted Sept. 8-17. At that time, 27 percent of those polled said they already had started their holiday shopping, including 32 percent of women, and another 23 had plans to begin before Thanksgiving.

Discount stores ranked as the favorite holiday choice, with 78 percent of consumers saying they would do some shopping there, NPD reported. National chains ran a distant second with 44 percent, including 43 percent of women, and the Internet was third, cited by 41 percent of shoppers overall and women.

Cohen said a surprise in NPD’s Holiday Consumer Survey was that more people planned to do holiday shopping online (41 percent) than in toy stores (33 percent), warehouse clubs (33 percent) or department stores (26 percent), among other channels.

Practical considerations trumped shoppers’ aspirational and image-driven concerns in determining where they would shop. Value for price, convenient location and quality of products offered were the three most powerful influences over the selection of holiday shopping venues. Advertising ranked seventh of 13 influences, named by half of the women surveyed, and the prestige of a store was last, cited by 7 percent .

Forty percent of consumers believe it’s nicer to give a gift than a gift card or certificate. Nonetheless, during holiday 2003, half of consumers purchased apparel-related gift cards and 43 percent plan to do so again.