Holiday Spending Down Some; 1/3 Start Shopping Before Thanksgiving; Halloween For Revelers

Though holiday sales this year have been reported to be the weakest in 17 years, TNS Retail Forward forecasts 1.5% growth, compared with 1.2% in 1991, for the holiday fourth quarter in the key holiday retail segments combined.

Online sales across retail channels are forecast to grow 9% this holiday season compared with 19% in 2007. TNS forecasts online sales to reach $42.5 billion in the fourth quarter up $3.5 billion from the prior year.

According to the TNS study, key retail sector holiday sales performance looks like this:

  • TNS forecasts a 5.6% combined growth for mass retailers, with a shopper shift toward value formats and the impact of higher food prices. Supercenters and warehouse clubs will remain among the best retail performers while discount department stores will be the laggard.
  • Apparel and accessory retailers will take a toll on the softgoods sector this holiday season, expected to decline 1.3% in the aggregate in the holiday period compared with flat growth in 2007.
  • Homegoods channels expected to decline this holiday by 1.0%.  Furniture and home furnishings stores will experience the biggest deterioration, while Home improvement store sales are forecast to decline 1.0%.
  • Consumer electronics stores are the exception in the channel with holiday sales growth forecast at 4.0%, partly because of sustained buying to prepare for the conversion to digital TV signals

A new Mediamark (MRI) Omnibus study finds that 62.3 million adult consumers will begin holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, while thirty-six percent of holiday shoppers say they begin shopping between Thanksgiving and December 15th, and 26% start their shopping between December 16th and 23rd. Approximately 2% of holiday shoppers don't begin their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Start Of Holiday Shopping


% of Total Holiday Shoppers

 # of Adults

Before Thanksgiving


62.183 Million

After Thanksgiving to December 15th


63.303 Million

December 16th to December 23rd


45.288 Million

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day


 4.002 Million

After Christmas


2.225 Million

Source: Mediamark, September 2008

Early shoppers combing retail shelves and online shopping sites before Black Friday:

  • 62% of shoppers are women, and are 18% more likely than holiday shoppers in general to begin shopping before Thanksgiving
  • 38% of early shoppers are Boomers, and they are 11% more like than holiday shoppers in general to be out there early
  • 13% of early shoppers are more likely than holiday shoppers in general to have bought at least one toy in the last 12 months, and they are 18% more likely to have bought 10 or more toys in the last 12 months
  • 9% are more likely to have given a personal wish list of gifts that they hope to receive to their family and their friends.

Early Shopper Profile (Base: All Holiday Shoppers)


Composition of 35.1% of Holiday Shoppers who Begin Shopping prior to Thanksgiving

% More (Less) Likely than All Holiday Shoppers



















HHI< $50k



HHI between $50-$100k



HHI >$100k



Purchased Any Toy



Purchased 10+ Toys



Gave personal gift "wish list" to Family/Friends



Gave "gift card" as a gift



Source: MRI's 2008 Omnibus Study, September 2008

Anne Marie Kelly, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Planning at MRI, concludes that  "Black Friday may be the traditional start of the holiday shopping season but... its strength has diminished as millions of Americans begin their shopping before Thanksgiving... "

And, not to be forgotten, more consumers plan to celebrate Halloween this year (64.5% vs. 58.7%), with the average person spending $66.54 on the holiday, up from $64.82 one year ago. Total Halloween spending for 2008 is estimated to reach $5.77 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and BIG Research

This year, says the study:

  • Consumers will spend an average of $24.17 on Halloween costumes
  • People will spend, on average, $20.39 on candy
  • $18.25 on decorations
  • $3.73 on greetting cards
  • And, 18-24 year-olds plan to spend $86.59 on the holiday, the most of any group??

People will celebrate Halloween in a variety of ways,

  • Handing out candy (73.7%)
  • Carving a pumpkin (44.6%)
  • Decorating (50.3%)
  • Dress in costume (35.3%)
  • Throw or attend a party (31.1%)
  • Take children trick-or-treating (33.6%)?

Phil Rist, Vice President of Strategy for BIGresearch, says "After months of bleak economic news, consumers are looking for a reason to let loose... and with Halloween falling on a Friday this year, consumers may plan to celebrate all weekend long."

For more on the NRF/BIGresearch Halloween study, please visit here.

For more information about the MRI Holiday Shopping Study, and a PDF file, please visit MediaMark here.

For more information from TNS about the forecast, please visit here.

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