8 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About Holiday Spending

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Shopping for the holidays can be acutely stressful, and most of us don’t have the time to go around hunting for intel on consumer trends and all the other stuff that makes the holiday retail world go round. But, as the saying goes, knowledge is power, and before you shell out money to make the season as merry as can be, it’s helpful to have an idea of the big picture at hand and to nab some answers to big-ticket questions. For instance: What behavior are retailers banking on this year? How many consumers will risk going into debt over Christmas? Where and how are people shopping? How are the pandemic and inflation playing a role here? 

See: 6 Holidays Purchases That You Should Only Make at Costco
Check Out: 4 Costco Items That Have Remained Cheap for Years

GOBankingRates consulted with retail experts to learn eight facts about holiday spending in 2021 that most Americans don’t know.  

Retail Returns Could Amount To $114 Billion

“There’s no surprise that holiday sales are expected to rise this year; the National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday sales during November and December will grow between 8.5% and 10.5% over 2020 to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion,” said Kari Lorz, a certified financial education instructor and founder at MoneyfortheMamas.com. “With that, there’s an increase in the number of returns expected. Additionally, the NRF expected in 2020, ‘On average, retailers expected 13.3 percent of merchandise sold during the 2020 holiday season to be returned. The estimated cost of these holiday returns is $101 billion.’  So for 2021, the returns could amount to $114 billion.”

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We’ve Got You Covered: GOBankingRates’ Smart Holiday Spending Guide

Lorz highlights this factoid as important for shoppers because it means there’s a good chance stores will be offering flexible policies in anticipation of an influx of returns and exchanges.  

Holiday Shopping Started Earlier Than Usual This Year

“In fall 2021, 40% of consumers had already started their holiday shopping, and a third (33% ) shopped even earlier in the year,” said Dave Fisch, general manager of Shopkick. “Of those who said they shopped earlier, the majority (58% ) did so because of concerns around product inventory, to stay organized ahead of the holidays (58% ), and to avoid holiday crowds (53% ).”

Year in Review: Take a Look Back at the Top Money Topics and Happenings of 2021

Only 18% of Consumers Shop at the Last Minute 

Drive Research surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers to learn when, where and how much they plan on spending during the holiday shopping season. The survey found that 34% of consumers complete their holiday shopping two weeks before Christmas, while 18% wait until the week leading up to the holiday to complete their gift shopping. 

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“This stat could potentially give readers a chance to plan their shopping excursions differently to accommodate crowds and sold-out items,” said Lark Allen, content marketing specialist at Drive Research. “This also shows that holiday shopping patterns aren’t necessarily changing, even though stores continue to put out Christmas decorations earlier each year. Just 10% of shoppers will get the majority of their gifts on Cyber Monday. 

For All Your Shopping: 21 Items That Are Always Cheaper at Costco

93% Of Shoppers Want To Support Small Businesses

“While headlines about Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales from big retailers like Target, Walmart and Amazon still dominate much of the holiday shopping news cycle, the vast majority of Americans feel shopping small is more important than ever,” said Shilpa Reddy, vice president of QuickBooks Commerce at Intuit. “According to a recent report from Intuit QuickBooks based on a survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, 93% of people said supporting small businesses is more important this holiday season due to the pandemic. With the influx of small businesses embracing e-commerce due to the pandemic, it’s now easier for consumers to shop small – even beyond their immediate geographic footprint by finding worthy small businesses online.”

Shopping Tips: Wrapping Paper, Greeting Cards and More Holiday Items To Only Buy at Dollar Stores

Mobile Sales Could Top $3.2 Trillion

“Industry analysts forecast that this year’s mobile commerce sales will reach $3.2 trillion, with Black Friday through Cyber Monday, and the remaining holiday shopping season, driving much of the mobile commerce activity,” said Shani Rosenfelder, head of content & mobile insights at AppsFlyer. “2020 ushered in a whole new world of mobile-first consumers, ultimately shifting how consumers shop for the holiday seasons to come.”

11.5% of Americans Aren’t Spending at All This Holiday Season

A Deloitte survey found that 11.5% of Americans aren’t spending — a big jump from the 4.9% of shoppers who abstained last year and 2.9% in 2019.

“The majority (65%) of non-spenders have an income under $50,000,” Meaghan Brophy, retail analyst at Fit Small Business explained. “Overall, holiday spending from this income group decreased 20% YoY. This drop contrasts overall holiday spending, up around 5%. The 20% drop from lower-income shoppers is more than offset by increases in spending from shoppers with higher income levels.”

Find Out: The Best and Absolute Worst Gift Cards To Buy for the Holidays

58% of Consumers Will Take a Loan To Pay For Holidays; 66% Will Use ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’

Inflation, including the rising costs of food, is one of the chief reasons why shoppers are sitting out this holiday season — and though the decision can’t be easy or fun, it’s very sensible. But it’s not something the majority of Americans are up for — most will spend despite not having the cash to cover their purchases. According to a new DebtHammer.org survey, 58% of consumers will take a loan to pay for holidays; 66% will use “buy now, pay later” to cover the cost of gifts and other holiday essentials.

“This dichotomy highlights the fact that many continue to suffer from the financial impact of the pandemic,” Brophy said. “More than half of people participating in holiday shopping will go into debt doing so, using short-term loans and buy now, pay later (BNPL) programs to finance holiday purchases.” 

COVID-19 Fallout Affected Holiday Shopping

“Surprisingly, 30%  of those who shopped early were already experiencing holiday product availability issues and 23% were experiencing shipping delays,” Fisch said. “On top of supply chain disruption, the majority of consumers (51%) adjusted their budgets due to the threat of continued inflation.” 

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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