Americans will spend average of US$831 on gifts this season, US$121 more than last year, finds American Express survey

NEW YORK , November 8, 2011 () – Americans will spend an average of $831 on gifts this season, $121 more than last year, but most will continue with money saving strategies according to the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Despite the expanding holiday shopping window giving consumers more access to seasonal merchandise and discounts, holiday shoppers are holding out for the best deals.

Pre-holiday shopping is expected to increase significantly as most are planning to shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday (52% combined), up 37% over last year. Consumers also plan to shop smart by setting budgets, finding deals and being resourceful about their spending.

Early bird shoppers are also likely to be out in force on Small Business Saturday. A separate online survey* indicated nearly four out of ten (38%) of consumers plan to shop for holiday gifts at small, independently owned, retailers by participating in the second annual Small Business Saturday on November 26. The full survey will be released by American Express OPEN later this week.

Bigger Budgets, Smarter Spending

Overall, Americans expect to increase holiday spend by 17% compared to last year. Despite the increase in spend, consumers are not as likely to dip into their savings (12% vs. 18% in 2010) and less are planning to carry balances on their credit cards (29% vs. 33% in 2010). Additionally, 13% of consumers say they will tap into their rewards points to help pay for holiday gifts.

“Consumers are savvier than ever, and they have memorized the holiday retail narrative,” said Pam Codispoti, executive vice president and general manager, Consumer Card Services, American Express. “We’re continuing to see consumers employ a range of tactics to stay within budget and, at the same time, maximize their gift-giving potential.”

More than two thirds of Americans will set a budget for holiday gifts, and nearly half (48%) plan to stick to it. Among young professionals polled, 83% will set a budget for holiday gifts, and most say that “sticking to a budget or coming under budget” best describes their holiday spending plan (58%). Additional smart spending strategies include:
2011 2010
Shopping for clearance or sale merchandise 58% 67%
Clipping coupons or taking advantage of promotions 51% 58%
Shopping at factory outlets 29% 26%
Cashing in rewards points to purchase gifts 28% --
Leveraging online offers from social media sites like Facebook or Groupon 19% --
Private sales (e.g. RueLaLa, Gilt Groupe) 6% --


Mobile technology will be another resource for holiday shopping this year. About one in four consumers will use their cell phone or mobile device for holiday shopping, from browsing for gift ideas (13%) to making purchases (6%). But before buying, shoppers will do their homework, using their device to compare prices (12%), fire up barcode scanning apps to track down the best deals (9%) and access offers on social media sites like Groupon, Foursquare or Facebook (7%). Young professionals are especially technologically savvy, with 63% planning to use their mobile phones to shop this season.

Countdown to Black Friday

Although 58% of consumers say they have not yet started their holiday spending, pre-holiday shopping is anticipated to be higher than last year. Forty-two percent of shoppers plan to hit the stores on Black Friday (vs. 31% in 2010), and more than a third (35%) will surf the web on Cyber Monday for deals (vs. 20% in 2010). On average, those who plan to holiday shop on “Black Friday” will spend $504 and 40% will plan to start their shopping between midnight and 4 a.m. on November 25.

Nearly a third of consumers will surf the web to research products and compare prices online before buying in-store to obtain hard-to-find items (31%), while others will use the internet to make purchases online (50%). Among those who will purchase online, one in four will do so to avoid long lines and crowded stores and because they can do their shopping without leaving their home (25% each). The majority of Black Friday shoppers say they will divide their holiday shopping for gifts between the stores and the web (63%), with 34% planning to shop in stores exclusively.

Gifts: Who (and What) Makes the List

Americans are making their lists and checking them twice. On average, holiday shoppers have nine people on their holiday gift lists this year. While 17% report this list has grown, the majority of holiday shoppers will purchase gifts for the same number of people as last year (60%). Less consumers will cut their lists (27% vs. 51%), but among those who do, more would eliminate a family member (other than a spouse/significant other or child) than a friend, if necessary (18% vs. 13%).

As to recipients, consumers will spend the most on children and significant others, $270 and $373, on average, respectively. The most gifted items?
2011 2010
Gift Cards 58% 53%
Clothing and Accessories 48% 50%
Toys and Games 43% 43%
Music 29% 29%
Books or Magazines 28% 31%
Cash 27% 26%
Electronics 25% 22%
Perfume and Cologne 24% 22%
Jewelry or Watches 23% 22%
Entertainment 21% 20%


In terms of other holiday expenses, holiday shoppers plan to invest in experiences compared to spending on traditional holiday items like decorations. An increased number of holiday shoppers will host holiday parties (26% vs. 20% in 2010), or enjoy a special dinner out (29% vs. 24% in 2010).

The American Express Spending & Saving Tracker research was completed online among a random sample of 2000 adults, including the general U.S. population, as well as two sub-groups—the Affluents and Young Professionals. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between October 18 and October 22, 2011. Overall, the results have a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

Affluents are defined as having a minimum annual household income of $100,000. Young Professionals are defined as less than 30 years of age, having a college degree, and a minimum household income of $50,000.

*Small Business Saturday research was completed online among a random sample of 1000 adults, including the general U.S. population. Interviewing was conducted by Echo Research between November 4 and November 6, 2011. Overall, the results have a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

About American Express

American Express is a global services company, providing customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success. Learn more at www.americanexpress.com and connect with us on www.facebook.com/americanexpress, www.twitter.com/americanexpress and www.youtube.com/americanexpress.

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