Holiday 2014 Will Bring Fewer Procrastinators, Says ICSC

Procrastinators be forewarned – you might be lonely this holiday shopping season. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers' (ICSC) latest consumer tracking survey, about 35 percent of consumers have or will have started their holiday shopping by the end of October. Roughly three out of five shoppers will begin shopping by Thanksgiving this year, and by the end of the Thanksgiving weekend 86 percent will have started making purchases. So what about those procrastinators? They are few and far between – with only 1 percent of respondents indicating they will start their shopping on Christmas Eve.

But while consumers might be starting early, they won't necessarily be completing their gift buying just yet, as only 10 percent of shoppers say they will finish before Thanksgiving Day. That number will increase significantly by December 15, however, as two-thirds of consumers expect to have their shopping "wrapped up" by that point.

"Consumers seem to be interested in getting out to stores early this season," said Jesse Tron, spokesperson for ICSC. "As a result, the importance of November to the overall season can't be overlooked as consumers indicate they plan to complete 37 percent of their holiday purchasing during the month – only slightly behind December's share of 42 percent. The promotional Thanksgiving weekend is likely having a large impact on those intentions," he added.

On average, consumers expect to spend about $677 on holiday-related items this season with $559 going towards gifts and $118 going towards other holiday-related items (e.g. decorations). About 70 percent of these shoppers said they plan to spend the same or more than last year. A change in the number of people they need to purchase gifts for and a change in their holiday budget (regardless of job status or income), were the two main reasons for a shift in expectations. Only 19 percent of consumers attributed a spending shift to a modification in job status or income.

Spending intentions do vary somewhat by income group. On average, the highest income group ($100,000+) will spend about 2.5 times more on holiday purchases than the lowest income group (less than $35,000).

But what will consumers buy? Electronics will be the most popular gift this year – 52 percent said they would purchase them – a striking difference from last year when just 27 percent of consumers said they would purchase electronics. Another perennial favorite, apparel, came in second at 49 percent, a slight uptick over 2013 (43 percent). It seems shoppers are looking to be more personal this year as only 45 percent of shoppers said they would purchase gift cards – down from 60 percent last year.

The season isn't all about buying and selling. Just over 60 percent of consumers said they planned to visit a mall or shopping center for a reason other than shopping during the holiday season. The number one reason, according to 45 percent of respondents, will be to participate in a charitable or fundraising event at the center (e.g. food, clothing, or toy drive). Nearly 20 percent of respondents said they would visit a mall or shopping center for a Santa-related activity. Another 20 percent said they would go for an experience – such as dining or entertainment options, like seeing a movie or going ice skating.

In another time-honored tradition, 81 percent of respondents said they would be decorating for the holidays this year – and it seems they will be getting into the holiday spirit early as half said they plan to decorate before the end of November. Nearly 30 percent said they would decorate over Thanksgiving weekend.

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