Happy Holidays: Have Mobile, Ready To Shop

OrnamentsNew forecasts from data powerhouses Deloitte and Accenture both point to happier holidays, even if consumers are still being cautious with Santa’s bankroll.

Deloitte’s study finds a sharp rise in optimism with 50% of those in its survey expecting the U.S. economy to continue to improve next year, up from 33% in last year’s survey. And the percentage of those who say they intend to spend less on Christmas this year than a year ago fell to 37%, the lowest level since 2006. 

Still -- at least for now -- shoppers are saying they intend to be careful, and plan to spend $386, down slightly from $395 in 2011. Omni-channel shoppers are likely to be the biggest spenders, and say they intend to spend $600, 71% more than store-only shoppers. And the trend toward fewer gifts continues: This year, shoppers say they will buy 12.8 presents, down from 14.7 last year, and almost half of the 23.1 gifts planned for back in 2007.

A big change this year, however, is the power of the smartphone, Deloitte vice chairman Alison Paul tells reporters during a conference call. “Smartphone users will contribute 5% to store sales this year,” she says, “and consumers insist on connectivity. They will leave stores if they don’t have it. And they’re not just checking prices -- they’re also reading reviews, and photographing potential purchases to share with friends. And overall, 68% of the survey’s smartphone users say they intend to rely on them in some manner while shopping this holiday. “In-store connectivity is an aid to shopping, not a detriment,” says Paul, who leads Deloitte’s retail and distribution sector. 

Some 45% intend to shop online; only discount stores, where 51% plan to buy their gifts, are more popular. And 11% of the survey, which included more than 5,000 adults, say they will shop via a tablet.

And for online retailers, she says, “now that free shipping has become table stakes, the next thing consumers are looking for is free returns.” (In fact, the National Retail Federation just released a study of online retailers, which reports that 89.7% will offer shoppers some form of free shipping this year.)

Meanwhile, the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey is calling for an increase in spending, with half of the respondents expecting to increase their spending by at least $250. On average, it says consumers expect to spend $582 on this year’s holidays, while 23% say they intend to shell out $750 or more. Still, people are being somewhat conservative, with only 5% planning to be “extravagant,” and 8% saying they are willing to “splurge.”

And certainly, the study finds shoppers are more deal-conscious, with 53% planning to shop on Black Friday. That reverses a several-year trend, it says, with 44% likely to shop Black Friday, 47% in 2012, and 52% in 2009. And 56% are likely to “showroom” -- industry-speak for checking out an item in a store, then finding it for a better price online. Some 27% say they will make those purchases right in the store, via smartphone or tablet.

Accenture also reports that people are better prepared this year, with 51% paying for the holidays with cash saved for that goal, compared with 45% in 2011.

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