Survey sees holiday spending hike in region

New England consumers plan to increase their gift budgets by 5 percent this holiday season, according to a survey of retail spending and trends.

The survey of 828 consumers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont was commissioned by Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. It found that those surveyed plan to spend an average of $629 on gifts this holiday season — up from $597 a year ago and above this year’s national average of $604.

New England consumers surveyed also said they expect to spend, on average, a full quarter of their total budgets on purchases made via the Internet, continuing an upward trend and also above the national average.

“Consumer planned spending levels point to a positive holiday season for area retailers this year,” said Art Schmeiser, a partner with Deloitte & Touche’s Northeast consumer business practice. “Still, retailers must take heed of the continued shift in behavior to the ‘time-pressed consumer,’ a shopper who visits fewer stores and is spending less time finding that perfect gift. Those who manage their inventory with the right products, in-stock at the right price, have an easy return policy, and maximize their customer service will likely capture the greatest share of the consumer’s wallet and be able to convert shoppers into buyers.”

These New England survey findings support Deloitte’s overall expectations that non-auto holiday sales will increase nationally in the 6 to 6.5 percent range during the November-to-January period, less than last year’s exceptional 8.6 percent increase, but still above the last decade’s average growth rate.

Also, according to the survey, New England area shoppers said they plan to spend most of their money in discount department stores this season. The Internet follows closely behind (21 percent), while traditional department stores come in third with 12 percent.

Respondents also reported that they spent about $1,650 on Internet purchases over the past year — almost double the amount nationally and the highest of the regions surveyed by Deloitte.

Gift cards remain the top planned purchase this year in the New England area, according to the survey, with 72 percent of respondents anticipating buying them — this continues gift cards’ surge in popularity, with a 4-point jump from last year’s results. Consumers indicate that they will purchase an average of 5 cards as gifts this year; 45 percent said they have unredeemed cards, with some holding cards that are five or more years old.

Among other planned gift choices, clothing comes in second at 61 percent, while categories including cosmetics, fragrances, sporting goods, toys and board games all saw drops from last year’s levels. – JEFF FEINGOLD

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