RAPAPORT... The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker survey estimated that, on average, U.S. consumers will spend $831 on gifts this Christmas, which is 17 percent higher than the average in 2010. The figure from American Express is also much greater than estimates by the National Retail Federation (NRF), which pegs gift spending across all income levels to be about $520 this year. The American Affluence Research Center (AARC) estimates average gift spending just from affluent households to be about $2,270. Both the NRF and AARC projections were slightly lower per person than in 2010, but they concluded that more consumers would would be shopping this Christmas season.
The American Express survey results, which were released this week, found that U.S. consumers will hold out for the best deals, hence, most are planning to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday to capture those expected bargains.
The survey revealed no major annual changes for the top gift items in 2011 with gift cards being the most popular followed by clothing, toys, music, books, cash, electronics and perfume. Jewelry and watches came in ninth place, with 23 percent of shoppers picking this category and that is up one percentage point from 2010.
The group found that the average consumer is not as likely to dip into their savings to afford Christmas gifts and many will tap their ''rewards points'' to help pay for holiday gifts.
Pam Codispoti, the general manager of consumer card services for American Express, explained, ''Consumers are savvier than ever, and they have memorized the holiday retail narrative. We're continuing to see consumers employ a range of tactics to stay within budget and, at the same time, maximize their gift-giving potential."
New spending trends the group tracked this year found that 28 percent expect to exchange reward points to purchase gifts, 19 percent plan to leverage online offers through social media and 6 percent anticipate using private sales at RueLaLa, Gilt Groupe, and others. Nearly six in 10 will shop for clearance, which is down from 67 percent in 2010 and 51 percent plan to use coupons or use promotions and that is down from 58 percent one year ago.
American Express found that one in four consumers will use their cell phone or mobile device for Christmas shopping and 6 percent expect to use that device to make a purchase. Otherwise, mobile devices will be used primarily for gift ideas and browsing, price comparison shopping, track barcode scanning apps for best deals and access social media sites such as Groupon, Foursquare or Facebook for specials.
Forty-two percent of shoppers are planning to visit stores on Black Friday, November 25, and this is up from only 31 percent in 2010. On average, those who plan to shop on Black Friday will spend about $504.
Nearly one third of consumers will research products and prices online before heading to stores and at least half will simply buy their gifts online.