Consumers to spend $738 for the holidays; Jewelry is a popular gift

The average consumer plans to spend $738.11 this holiday season, up 5.1 percent from the previous year, according to annual survey that forecasts holiday spending.

The National Retail Federation’s 2005 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, is in line with NRF’s holiday sales forecast, released last month, which expects total holiday retail sales to increase 5 percent over last year to $435.3 billion.

“Just as retailers plan ahead for holiday sales and promotions, consumers plan ahead and budget for the holidays,” said Tracy Mullin, president and CEO of NRF. “With extra money tucked away to spend on what’s important, shoppers will be hitting the stores and spending on their loved ones, and on themselves.”

According to the survey, consumers will dedicate the majority of their holiday spending to gifts for family ($421.30) and friends ($78.99). They plan to spend $21.05 on co-workers and $44.16 on gifts for other people, including babysitters, teachers, and clergy. Other items holiday shoppers will purchase this year include decorations ($40.86), greeting cards and postage ($28.22), candy and food ($87.75), and flowers ($15.78).

Consumers will spend an additional $17.68 billion on non-gift purchases for themselves or their families this holiday season, according to the survey. Men will be the most generous when it comes to treating themselves, with the average male spending $108.87.

Books, CDs, DVDs, videos, and video games once again remain popular items, with 55.5 percent of consumers hoping to receive something in that category. Apparel is also another gift favorite, with 54.4 percent hoping to receive clothing or accessories this year. Other popular items on their lists include gift cards (52.3 percent), consumer electronics (38.4 percent), jewelry (26.4 percent), and home décor (23.3 percent).

More than one-third of consumers (37.9 percent) said that sales or price discounts are the most important factor in their decision to purchase from a particular store. Selection is also important, with nearly a quarter (23.1 percent) of consumers polled ranking it as a top factor. Other consumers chose where to shop based on quality of merchandise (11 percent) or location (6.5 percent). Consumers also appreciate good, knowledgeable customer service, with 3.7 percent saying it was the most important factor when choosing where to shop.

According to the survey, 15.3 percent of consumers started their holiday shopping before September, with 6.3 percent starting during September. A total of 18.5 percent of respondents say they plan to begin shopping in October. More than one-third of consumers (37.4 percent) will begin their holiday shopping in November and nearly one in four (22.5 percent) will wait until December.

Discounters (71.4 percent) and department stores (59.4 percent) once again are top shopping destinations, according to the survey. Other popular stores include specialty stores, such as clothing, toy or electronics (46.5 percent) and grocery stores (47.4 percent). The popularity of online shopping continues to grow, with almost half (42.6 percent) of consumers planning to purchase gifts online, up from 38.3 percent the previous year.