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How online shoppers plan to spend this holiday season

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That whooshing sound? Yep, it’s 2011 rushing past us. Of course, retailers have spent months getting ready for the impending holiday season, which now requires deft management not only across stores and websites, but also myriad mobile devices and social media outlets (a heads up here - I'll be posting more on retailer preparations and planning next week).

According to NRF’s 2011 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by BIGresearch earlier this month, consumers, too, have been thinking about gifts, budgets, and (marketing opportunity!) even what they would like to buy for themselves.

I’ve said before that online shoppers are a generous lot, and – no matter what general economic indicators would have us believe - this holiday season is no different in that regard:

  • Almost half (46.7%) of all adults 18 years and older plan to make some portion of their holiday purchases online. One-third expects to do between one quarter and one half of all their holiday shopping specifically online this year.
  • All told, online shoppers plan to spend a net average of $857.59, or fully 22% more than all adults. Of that total, almost $500 will be gifts specifically for family members (22% more than all adults 18 years and older).
  • How will online shoppers decide which retailer to shop with? In the same ways as other shoppers, according to the survey: 2 out of 5 will be actively looking for sales or discounts, and 1 out of 5 will decide based on the merchandise selection. As we see every year in the eHoliday Study, however, online shoppers rank seeing the shopping cart total before check out and clear product descriptions higher even than value for money.
  • Two-thirds of online shoppers will be on the lookout for sales and special value to make additional, non-gift purchases for themselves and/or their family – to the net average tune of $163.49 (or 25% more than all adults). This is yet another marketing opportunity for retailers – one, they want to indulge themselves, and, two, the online shopper knows exactly what he / she wants (unlike shopping for others) so can take the plunge when offered the right product at the right price.
  • Most wished for gifts this season? Much like last year, two-thirds of online shoppers want to receive gift cards, so retailers should heavily market this product, especially if it includes personalization features (e.g. Home Depot) and/or multiple delivery options (e.g. Amazon).

So what about the impact of smartphones and tablets on holiday shopping this year? Make no mistake – many online shoppers will be using both. While many of the tasks are the same, my hunch is the difference will lie where the device is used (smartphones more in store, perhaps tablets more at home or at the office). Among online shoppers who own a smartphone and/or tablet:

  • Over one-third expect to use their smartphone to research products and compare prices (presumably a lot of that use while in store). Given the richer experience, well over half will do the same via their tablet device (my guess is that this will occur less in store than for smartphones).
  • One-third further expect to use their smartphone to look up retailer information such as location, store hours, directions, and the like – again, a reasonable expectation given the smartphone’s ubiquity while on the go. That said, 2 out of 5 tablet users will use the tablet for this purpose.
    The biggest difference? Actual purchases made via either device (of course). Almost 1 out of 5 brave smartphone users expect to purchase products via this small screen device – compared with almost half (46%) of tablet device users.

Regardless, mobile devices will play a big part in holiday shopping this year – both online and in store – so my fervent hope is that retailers truly are ready to service and sell to consumers as the latter moves from one retailer touch point to another in the course of even a single transaction.

No doubt we’ll all be watching this landscape closely to glean insights into how the retail world will evolve further in 2012. members can download the online shopper results now. Please see also the full results of this consumer survey and the NRF press release.