Holiday shopping is upon us, with retailers gearing up for the crucial sprint from Halloween to Christmas, and Americans are expected to spend more on gifts than last year as the economy slowly recovers.
The National Retail Federation has forecast the country's holiday spending will rise 4.1 percent, to about $586 billion, an average of about $750 per holiday shopper. “This is the most optimistic forecast NRF has released since the recession,” said NRF chief executive Matthew Shay.
Here are five holiday shopping trends that analysts are seeing this year:
» Shopping is starting earlier than ever. Twenty-two percent of consumers said they plan to start their holiday shopping in October this year, up from 20 percent last year. And an NRF survey showed that almost 62 percent of retailers will start offering online holiday specials by Halloween, up from 53 percent last year.
» Black Friday might be further diluted. Black Friday is giving way to shopping on Thanksgiving day itself, both in-store and online. Gap, Kmart, Target and Toys R Us all opened on Thanksgiving last year, and many other malls and retailers moved the start of Black Friday sales to midnight. Online spending is also increasing during the holiday itself. About 22 percent of consumers shopped online during Thanksgiving last year, up from 15 percent in 2008. ComScore reported online sales grew 18 percent on Thanksgiving last year.
» Layaway is back, and bigger than last year. A few years ago, layaway was effectively gone, replaced by credit cards. But with the recession and the credit crunch, layaway has made a comeback. Major retailers such as Toys R Us and Wal-Mart started their seasonal layaway programs earlier than ever. Toys R Us is offering free layaway through Dec. 16.
» Gift cards still top people's wish lists. In an NRF survey, gift cards topped the list of the most popular items on wish lists. Sixty percent said they want gift cards, followed by apparel at 49 percent and books, CDs, DVDs and video games at 46 percent. And with relatively new limits on how long the cards have to last before they expire (five years) and how much retailers can take in hidden fees, they're a safer option for consumers.
» The online and mobile growth boom continues. Sales on the Internet and mobile devices are still the fastest-growing segment of holiday purchases. The NRF estimates this year that online sales will grow 12 percent during the holidays, to $96 billion. More than half of consumers surveyed, 52 percent, planned to shop for some gifts online this year. That's the highest percentage since the NRF started its surveys, and up from 47 percent last year.