Holiday poll: To Black Friday and beyond

Consumer Reports News: November 19, 2009 05:08 AM

Three percent of consumers have finished their holiday shopping. Then there's the rest of us. For whatever reason, about two-thirds of consumers hadn't made any holiday purchases by early November. So after the turkey comes the annual trot to the mall.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday will bookend a busy shopping weekend with half of all U.S. adults planning to shop in stores or online in the four days following Thanksgiving, according to a nationally representative holiday shopping poll from the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The day of Black Friday has traditionally marked the start of the holiday shopping season, but just as many consumers plan to shop on Saturday or Sunday. So-called Cyber Monday promises to be a bit quieter—nearly twice as many adults plan to shop in stores on Black Friday (28 percent) as shop online the following Monday (16 percent).

While most shoppers (47 percent) plan to make gift purchases over the long weekend, a third of those asked will be looking for things for themselves. So what is on their lists? The top gift items that shoppers plan to buy are clothing (56 percent), electronics (55 percent), toys (55 percent) and gift cards (46 percent). Tops on the "me" list are electronics (39 percent), clothing (33 percent) and food or wine (32 percent).

Tuning into TV sales
Flat screen TVs continue to be a hot holiday item with one in five adults saying they plan to buy a set during or after the holidays. Interestingly, more respondents plan to make their purchases after the holidays (15 percent) than during (9 percent). Some of those shoppers may be looking ahead to the Super Bowl—31 percent of those planning a TV purchase want a new set to watch major sporting events. Other reasons were better picture quality (77 percent), takes less space (71 percent) and replacing an older non-flat screen (70 percent).

Many TV shoppers also plan to take a look at financing options. A third of those planning a flat-screen purchase plan to take advantage of zero or low interest financing from retailers. Our first holiday poll should serve as a cautionary tale for those shoppers—six percent or 13.5 million consumers are still carrying debt from the last holiday season.

Deal or no deal?
As we've been noting on this blog, retailers have been offering deals both online and in the stores since well before Black Friday. And the lure of an in-store Black Friday deal may have lost a bit of its luster of late. The number of shoppers busting down the doors has declined steadily over the past three years—30 percent of respondents planned to shop on Black Friday 2006 but only 25 percent planned to do so this year.

Shoppers are growing more comfortable shopping online and 49 percent plan to do so this season—up from 44 percent last year. Not only did those consumers cite the convenience of online shopping but two-thirds said they expect to find deals just as good or better online as they do in stores. And without maneuvering for a parking space!

One downward trend that employers will like is that the percentage of full-time employees who plan to do their online shopping from work has dropped from 27 percent last year to 17 percent this year.

Here are some other things shoppers are saying:

The gift of time
Consumers plan to spend, on average, 13 hours shopping for gifts this year, that's two hours more than last year. Add to that the more than two hours that they plan to spend wrapping their gifts. (Women predict it will take them three.)

Who's shopping
Married women remain the primary gift shoppers. More than three-quarters or 78 percent did the lion's share of the gift buying for their household last year and four in 10 did it all.

Given the finding that many people are shopping for themselves, it seems a bit ironic that 75 percent of adults said that they preferred to be surprised by their holiday presents.

We'll continue to watch holiday shopping trends until the confetti flies in 2010. Check back for daily posts from Tightwad Tod and our other money experts.

—Mary H.J. Farrell

Methodology: The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households.  1,001 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+.  Interviewing took place over November 5 – 8, 2009.  The margin of error is +/- 3.2% points at a 95% confidence level.

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