US Consumers Plan Frugal Holiday, Want Free Shipping as Well

While expectations for holiday shopping have been optimistic this year, the mood of U.S. consumers appears to trending toward a more restrained spending plan with a major bonus thrown in. Just over half of consumers (53%) expect to send $50 or more for their most expensive gift this year. More than a third (35%) plan to spend less than that on their most expensive gift, and 12% say they won’t be buying presents at all. Only 9% expect to spend $250 or more on their most expensive gift.

Among those who plan to buy gifts this year, 39% say they will purchase their most expensive give online. And online shoppers are notorious for searching hard for the best price.

The data were reported Tuesday by researchers at after surveying nearly 1,100 U.S. adults.

Those online shoppers are quite demanding too. Consulting firm Deloitte found that 88% of U.S. consumers it surveyed said that free shipping is more important to them than fast shipping. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of shoppers plan to take advantage of free shipping offers this holiday season.

Why the frugality? One financial planner told

I think there’s a lot of fear amongst consumers right now. They’re watching the stock market rise significantly, and they don’t understand why the markets are going up the way they are. When there is uncertainty, people tend to become a little more conservative in letting their dollars go.

If people are feeling maxed out or like they’re struggling to pay their bills, they’re going to be less likely to add to the stress. The good news is that motivates people to make important shifts in their thinking and their spending.

Rod Sides, vice chairman of Deloitte and head of the U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution unit, said:

The online experience has also redefined people’s expectations of the physical store. In the survey, people told us online channels outperform stores when it comes to finding unique items and products that are high-quality and ones they trust. At one time, online excelled primarily on price followed by convenience, but now, it’s outpacing the store experience across all attributes during the holiday season.

Free shipping plays a big part in that overall online shopping experience, and retailers could pay dearly in sales if they fail to meet consumer expectations. The downside to meeting those expectations is that consumers keep raising the bar.

Shoppers want to be able to return items to any store location (67%) and they want refund options other than store credit (63%), according to Deloitte. Half want a longer return period and 41% want to be able to return a gift without a receipt.

Don’t be surprised to see one or more of those innovations on offer for the 2018 holiday season.