Holiday Forecast: A Tale of Three Surveys

Will high home-heating costs lead to lower-than-hoped-for holiday spending? Not according to a new survey from The Macerich Co. Conducted for the real-estate investment trust by August Partners, the survey reports that U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $955 on holiday-related purchases, up 6.3% from last year. That breaks out to an average of $655 for gifts and $316 for parties, decorations, and other seasonal items.

Those figures are even more optimistic than the projections released last week by the National Retail Federation (NRF). According to the NRF Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, the average consumer will spend $738.11 on gifts and other holiday-related items this season, up 5.1% from last year. In addition, they’ll be spending another $86.62 on average on gifts for themselves. As NRF president/CEO Tracy Mullin noted in a press release, “Many consumers use two-for-one sales as a great excuse to get a gift for someone on their list and to treat themselves”—something to keep in mind if you want to boost order sizes and move excess stock later in the season.

Nonetheless, 37% of participants in the Macerich survey said they would be spending less this year on holiday purchases due to recent fuel cost hikes, and another 23% were uncertain. What’s more, 71% percent of those surveyed by by StrategyOne on behalf of supply-chain services provider Manugistics Group said that price would be the most important variable in determining where they shop this season. Two-thirds said that they’d make more of an effort this year to find the best prices than they had last year.

In contrast, 38% of respondents to the NRF survey said that sales or discounts are the most important factor in their decision to buy from a particular merchant—though that was still appreciably more than the percentage who rated merchandise selection as a top factor (23%), let alone quality of merchandise (11%) or location (less than 7%).

Nearly half (49%) of respondents to the Manugistics survey said that newspaper ads and inserts were the most influential source regarding finding the best prices for holiday gifts. For respondents 18-24 year old, however, friends, family, co-workers, and TV commercials were the top sources. And in what may be good news for less well known brands and merchants selling private-label goods, Manugistics expects consumers to favor less expensive private-label gifts than brand-name items this year.

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