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Consumer Trends

The long and short of America's consumer holidays

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For 11 years now, NRF has partnered with Prosper Insights & Analytics to gauge consumers’ spending intentions on America’s favorite holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Halloween and of course, Christmas.

During that time, Halloween has grown to become one of the most popular holidays of the year, average spending on back-to-school items has increased 31 percent since 2004, and Thanksgiving Day has officially become a bonafide shopping day for millions of bargain-hungry Americans. I am frequently asked how holidays “rank” when it comes to consumer spending so I thought I would dig into it a little bit more and add some context to who, what, when, where, why and how people shop for our consumer holidays. Here’s how each holiday ranks as of the release of our Mother’s Day survey:

Holiday Spending Totals In Billions, 2013-2014

Holiday Spending Totals In Billions, 2013-2014
Seasons with the * indicates the data is from the 2013 Monthly Consumer Survey
Charts from the NRF Foundation’s Retail Insight Center. To access this data and more research please visit the Retail Insight Center.

Seasons with the * indicates data from NRF's 2013 Monthly Consumer Survey.

Winter holidays: As the largest gift-giving holiday of them all, the winter holidays account for nearly 20 percent of total annual retail sales for retailers. In 2013, holiday celebrants spent an average of $730 on gifts, food, decorations and more. After all was said and done, NRF found that holiday sales increased 3.8 percent to $602 billion. More than 90 percent of Americans celebrated Christmas, Kwanza or Hanukah last winter, the most-celebrated season of the year.

Back to school/college: Spending on pencils, backpacks, denim, college dorm furniture and collegiate wear, tablets, smartphones and notebooks costs mom and dad hundreds of dollars on average and a total of $72.5 billion last year. But savvy parents know bargains are not hard to find. Almost every sector of retail plays a role: drug stores, thrift stores, electronics stores, department stores, discount stores and even grocery stores for penny-pinching college students and their parents.

Mother’s Day: Consumers say they will spend an average $163 this year – $19.9 billion total – with the majority of their budget going to special outings, new apparel items and jewelry. As to why Mother’s Day is so much bigger than Father’s Day: the types of gifts people typically buy mom tend to cost a little more, and dad even admits that he doesn’t like all the fuss anyway.

Halloween: In 2013, two-thirds of Americans said they would partake in Halloween activities, spending $75 on average to celebrate for a total of $6.9 billion. In addition to the pint-sized “Despicable Me” costumes that now roam the streets on Halloween, the holiday has become more of an adult event than ever before, helping boost spending on costumes, candy, decorations and party materials more than 55 percent since 2005. With the growth in popularity, other sectors have jumped into the mix. Home improvement stores take advantage of their vast space to sell life-size yard decorations, and drug and grocery stores are also now devoting select aisles to decorations candy and costumes.

Visit the Retail Insight Center for a breakdown of other consumer holidays like Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and more, and sign up to receive “Consumer Trends” press releases on