Households gift spending will be down slightly from last year

U.S. households are expected to spend an average of only $455 on gifts during the holiday season, down from last year’s $483, according to The Conference Board in its annual holiday survey. This wallet tightening could trigger a 5% dip in retail sales compared with last year.

“Consumer caution heading into Thanksgiving may very well spill over into the holiday shopping season,” says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board’s Consumer Research Center. “It now seems clear that most consumers will be shopping for bargains this season. Firms offering the best deals are likely to chalk up the biggest sales gains.”

The top holiday spenders will be families in New England (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont), who will spend an average of $597 on holiday gifts this season, according to the Christmas Spending Survey, 2003. Middle Atlantic households (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) are the only other group who will spend more than $500. Lowest holiday spending will be in the West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas), where families will spend $400.

About 32% of all households will spend $500 or more on holiday gifts, with 38% spending $200-$500 and the remaining 30% planning to spend less than $200, according to the survey.

About 28% of all consumers will buy holiday gifts on the Internet, up from 27% a year ago. Books top the list of online holiday buying, with nearly 44% saying they will buy books as gifts. Clothing and shoes rank next as online holiday buying choices, followed closely by toys and games and CDs.

About 94% said they were satisfied with their online buying experience, up 2 percentage points from the 2001 season.

Households headed by individuals aged 55-64 intend to spend the most this year, with $547 the average expenditure.

Households headed by those 35-44 represent the second largest spending group. For them, average expenditures are expected to reach $480.

Households whose incomes top $50,000 intend to spend $623 for Christmas gifts.

This survey of holiday spending intentions covers a nationally representative sample of 5,000 households. It was conducted for The Conference Board in November by NFO WorldGroup. NFO is one of TNS group of companies. The cutoff date for the survey was Nov. 17.