Maybe it’s the lousy economy at work — or perhaps people are simply waiting for prices to drop further — but most consumers have yet to begin their shopping this season, according to the latest holiday poll by our colleagues at the Consumer Reports National Research Center.
At the same time, the percentage of Americans planning to hit the malls on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is up over last year, and the goods they’ve got their eyes on most are home electronics. In fact, 85 percent of Black Friday shoppers intend to buy TVs, DVD players, home-theater systems, and the like. That’s a 15 percentage point increase over the percentage that planned to purchase similar items last year.
The national poll, of 1,003 adults, was conducted between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. It’s the second of three seasonal polls we conduct annually to get a handle on consumers’ shopping behavior and expectations. The first poll was released on Nov. 6. The final installment will be available in December.
As of Nov. 2, only 38 percent of Americans had begun shopping for the holidays, a figure identical to last year, but 5 percentage points below the percentage who were off and running at this juncture in 2006. A scant 3 percent of respondents proclaimed they were actually done with their holiday shopping by the beginning of this month.
If retailers are hoping for a big Black Friday turnout, traditionally one of the busiest shopping days on the calendar, they’ll probably get their wish. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they plan to go shopping on Nov. 28, up from 21 percent last year.
Even though our first holiday poll indicated that consumers were less likely to give electronics as a gift this year, many will be sniffing out Black Friday bargains. Survey respondents put electronics at the top of their collective shopping list. But many indicated that they’re inclined to trade down to, say, a less-expensive TV set with a smaller screen or delay their purchase until after the holidays when they’re less strapped for cash.
Besides electronics, shoppers have their sights set on other holiday merchandise on Black Friday. Eighty-two percent of those surveyed said they expect to buy clothes; 68 percent, toys; 59 percent, gift cards; 42 percent, jewelry, food, or wine; and 41 percent, small appliances.
Compared to Black Friday 2007, shoppers intend to buy more video-game systems, MP3 players, flat-panel television sets, cellphones and smartphones, camcorders, and home-theater setups. Check out our Electronics Blog for more details about techy gifts.
When it comes to taking charge of gift-giving, women are front and center. Among couples, 72 percent of women claimed they completed at least three-quarters of their household’s holiday shopping last season. By comparison, only 13 percent of men surveyed claimed to be as heavily engaged.
Predictably, therefore, women will once again shoulder a greater share of the burden. In general, the average American will spend 11 hours holiday shopping. Forty-four percent of women surveyed estimate they’ll put in 10 or more hours going from store to store. Only 30 percent of men expect to log that much time. Similarly, 52 percent of women plan to wrap presents for three or more hours. Most men aren’t that committed. Just 22 percent intend to wrap for that long a time.
The Internet continues to play a significant part in where Americans buy their holiday gifts. Although our survey revealed that 44 percent of consumers will shop online – the same percentage as last year – they’re spending a bigger chunk of their budget in cyberspace. Twenty percent of those surveyed said they plan to do more online shopping vs. 2007, while just 8 percent said they plan do less.
Employers might want to note that 27 percent of Americans do at least some of their online shopping at the office. That’s the percentage who admit to it anyway.
When asked why they shop online, 41 percent of respondents cited convenience, followed by the desire to avoid crowds (15 percent), have access to a wider selection of merchandise (15 percent), and lower prices (11 percent). Those numbers are largely unchanged from last year.
Finally, no matter how long and loudly we beat the drum about the folly of extended warranties, consumers continue to be seduced by them. Thirty-five percent of respondents – and 52 percent of those ages 18 to 34 -- said they would consider purchasing one for home electronics and large appliances. That’s down (statistically the same as 2007 but down from 2006)from 37 percent last year and 42 percent in 2006. At least the numbers are moving down.
Extended warranties are cash cows for retailers, so don’t be surprised if you’re the target of an aggressive sales pitch. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said they felt pressured to buy an extended warranty. So consider yourselves warned.