Spirit of the Season Grips Americans as they Gift & Google.

The Christmas Countdown app my two children installed on my iPhone is about to run its course of daily screeching out “Jingle Bells” (often just as I have joined a conference call), and literally ticking down the seconds until the fat man sings – er, flies out of sight.   Of course, my kids don’t look at it as a stress inducer like I do, and apparently most Americans wouldn’t either.

According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted December 3-7, Americans are looking forward to most aspects of the holiday season. Three-quarters say they are looking forward to visiting friends and family a lot, followed by eating holiday food (60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}. Just 60{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}? Who are the two-in-five that are NOT looking forward to eating a lot?!). But a significant number are looking forward “a lot” to giving and receiving gifts, decorating their homes, and the ubiquitous playing of carols in every shop and restaurant.

chart 1

Women, parents, and those who attend religious services more frequently are most likely to say they are looking forward to these activities a lot.

The spirit of the season even appears to be extending to the commercial aspects of the holiday season. More than eight-in-ten (83{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) say they feel “joyful” and nearly as many feel “generous” when they think about buying and receiving gifts. That said, nearly half (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) admit to feeling stretched thin financially when it comes to gift buying, increasing to a majority (58{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of those with household incomes under $30,000 a year.   Fewer are feeling stressed out (36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), or say it is wasteful (25{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). It was some comfort to note that a majority admit to feeling some mix of positive and negative emotions when it comes to gift buying (53{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), while just 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} only express positive feeling and a mere 7{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} are in the bah humbug/ only negative category.

Some of that cheer surrounding gift buying may be due to many not feeling quite as pinched as in the recent past. According to the CNBC survey conducted by our firm in conjunction with Hart Research Associates, Americans in 2014 are far more likely to say they are spending at least as much as last year (68{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) than they have since the economic downturn in 2008. And while a significant 31{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say they are spending less, this is far fewer than in recent years as the following graph depicts:

Chart 2

The other cheer inducing element may be HOW Americans are shopping as well. For the first time, more Americans say they are shopping mostly on-line (38{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) rather than in any specific type of retail store (although collectively, retail sites still capture more). Just seven years ago, twice as many Americans said they were shopping mostly at box bog retailers like Walmart and Best Buy over on-line sites (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} and 22{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}, respectively). Today, on-line edges out going to the physical site of a big box retailer:

chart 3

The shift to on-line has happened with every sub-group we examined, although there are still significant differences by age and socio-economic status. Predictably, younger, better educated and higher income consumers are more likely to rely on on-line shopping sites. The South is the only region of the country where more consumers say they shop at a big box store than go on-line.

Some may want to consider reining in their buoyant buying sprees. More than one-in-four Americans (29{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) told us that they “expect to use credit cards or other types of debt” that they “will not immediately pay off and for which they will carry a balance for some amount of time.” That represents an eight point increase from 2013 when 21{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} said the same.

And what are these consumers going into hock for this season? The Harris Poll reports that half (51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of consumers plan to buy toys for children, and 37{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of all consumers – translating to 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} of pet owners – are planning to buy their furry family members a toy, treat or other gift.

So, best of luck with that last minute shopping and keep the spirit of the season!

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