AVERAGE CONSUMER HOLIDAY SPENDING: $766

BUT FEW ACTUALLY ENJOY SHOPPING, ONE-THIRD BUY PRESENTS YEAR-ROUND

By Published on .

After Thanksgiving is the starting bell for holiday gift shopping. Almost half of those surveyed (46%) in the third Lifescapes online poll claim that as soon as the turkey is digested they hit the malls and boutiques across the land.

But the scramble is hardly as joyous as the season's bells. Most would rather clean the basement, work on their taxes or visit the dentist than Christmas shop.

Almost two thirds (62%) of the respondents said they'd rather do almost any-thing-home or office work, plumbing, fix-it jobs, get their cavities filled and scour the basement-instead of shopping for gifts this time of year. Just 6% claim to actually enjoy the process.

Some 6% say the ordeal of shopping is what they dread most about the holidays, while 24% cite a related negative of not having enough money; 9% each of stress and being forced to make purchases; and 3% of wrapping presents. Lifescapers resent having to shop for an average 1.3 names on their list: most likely that person is an in-law.

Lifescapers, on average, expect the holidays will end up costing them $766 this year.

What's the worst aspect of holiday shopping? For three out of five people (59%) it's the crowds. Another 18% resent feeling forced to make purchases in a limited amount of time. Other downers? Some 11% cited chintzy holiday decorations and music and 10% balked at the Salvation Army Santas and other pressures to donate money to various causes.

While most people started streaming into stores Nov. 25, almost a third (30%) claim to Christmas shop year-round. Another 12% say for them, as soon as back-to-school is over, the Christmas rush begins. While no one confesses to leaving it to Christmas Eve, 8% sheepishly admit they pretty much leave it to the last minute, starting just a few days before.

Lifescapers claim by a 69% to 27% margin that they'd rather give gifts than receive them. But if they had to accept them, a home theater system might coax a smile. More than half of Lifescapers (54%) would rather receive that than a free year of video rentals (16%) or pass to the movies (15%), an invitation to the Academy Awards (8%) or a night with their favorite celebrity (5%).

Most would rather receive a great home over a great job (59% vs. 39%); an extra hour a week of stimulating conversation over leisure time (57% vs. 40%); and no end to sports strikes (65%) rather than back to playing baseball (22%) or hockey (10%).

Lifescapers are happier with less from stores they like more. Those polled would prefer a $50 gift certificate from a store they patronize frequently (82%) over a $100 gift chit for a store they hate (13%).

But they'd much rather have that gift certificate from a store they spurn (56%) than an ill-fitting homemade sweater (12%) or the wrong size pants from a store 25 miles away (10%). And hold the fruit. Only 10% and 11% respectively would opt for homemade jam in an unappealing flavor or a store bought fruitcake.

And nobody would most like to receive a gift certificate from Harry & David's Fruit, while 42% say they'd least like to get one from the fruitmen. By contrast, 38% would love one for a Barnes & Noble bookstore, (and only 1% would like that least) and 17% for Software Inc. (vs. 2% who'd dislike it).

While 10% each voted for Sam's Warehouse Club and Victoria's Secret gift certificates, just 5% would least like to receive a voucher from Sam's while 17% would not want it from Victoria's. Another 9% would prefer a gift certificate for Circuit City, 8% for The Gap and 6% for Home Depot. Only 1% would most welcome a gift certificate for Sears. Some 5% would least like one from there or from Circuit City, while 8% wouldn't be happy with a chit for Home Depot and 14% would least like a gift certificate from The Gap.

Few people (3%) head to the stores with a set list. Some 37% shop entirely by impulse. More than half (57%) have a good idea of one or two different items that could fit the bill.

Santa's hearty ho is not what's luring shoppers to one store over another. Some 45% say the greatest incentive is promotional pricing, 20% say easy parking and 16% credit the sales circulars. Another 5% each picked the easy return policy and money back guarantee and 4% the free gift wrap.

Just 2% were swayed by a guaranteed delivery date and only 1% by Santa on site. Two for one offers carry more than twice the weight of gift with purchase deals, but for 23% of us, neither has any appeal.

Roughly three times as many Lifescapers (74% vs. 24%) would prefer to buy heavily discounted prestige cosmetics than heavily discounted designer suits.

Two-thirds (67%) say the gift wrap more than the size or shape of the box or the way it sounds (all 10%) makes the present appealing. As for the color of gift wrap that most telegraphs appeal: 30% vote for gold, 22% each for red and green and 13% for silver. Ten percent say this year they'll wrap with newsprint. Just 38% admit to re-using gift ribbon and wrapping paper.

By a significant margin, Lifescapers would rather find lots of small packages under the tree than lots of large ones. (They think though that their kids would opt for big.) But even more so, they'd like money envelopes.

Although 61% of respondents feel a $10 gift certificate makes a better present for a teacher than homemade cookies (38%), Lifescapers feel homemade gifts are even more appealing than having someone else do the gift shopping and pay for it. They're not much excited by designer-name gifts bearing logos-and even less so by movie tie-in memorabilia.

What happens if the gift isn't what you had your heart set on? Some 58% of Life-scapers admit they rewrap it and pass it along, though never to he who bequeathed it. (Hence the story of the traveling fruitcake.) But 44% say they wait until another season or occasion to unload.

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