By Michelle Graff
New York--This holiday season, 46 percent--or, nearly half--of all shopping will be done online, according to the National Retail Federation’s Holiday Consumer Spending survey.

This is up from the 44 percent recorded last year and the highest recorded since the NRF first started asking about online shopping in 2006.

Of the consumers who will shop online, 47 percent will take advantage of stores’ option to buy online and pick up in store. Yet, the most popular option remains the free shipping promotions: 93 percent of online shoppers said they will use a free shipping offer when buying holiday merchandise.

The millennial generation also is the most likely to take advantage of the “instant gratification” option when it comes to shipping and fulfillment, the NRF said. According to the survey, 17 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 16 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds will use same-day delivery when buying holiday items this season, as compared with just 8 percent of the rest of the population.

There also will be a high level of mobile engagement this holiday season, with 21 percent of smartphone owners indicating they would use their devices to purchase holiday merchandise this year. 

More also will use their smartphones to research products (38 percent this year versus 36 percent in 2014), and to look for a way to connect with a retail store by looking up information such as store hours and directions (28 percent.) One in five will use their smartphone specifically to search product availability in a store.

Tablet owners will be just as active on mobile devices, the survey shows. Nearly half will use their devices to research products, and 35 percent will use it to make a purchase of some kind.

In terms of where consumers indicated they would shop this season, the most popular responses were discount and department stores, with 56 of shoppers surveyed indicating that they would look for holiday gifts at each. This was followed closely by Internet shopping (53 percent), grocery stores (44 percent), and clothing or accessory stores (33 percent).

When asked how they will decide where to shop, nearly three-fourths of those surveyed said sales or price discounts are a factor, and 61 percent said quality of merchandise also is important. 

The survey also showed that consumers continue to start their holiday shopping earlier in the season. This year, approximately 40 percent said they begin before Halloween, with another 42 percent saying they start in November and only 20 percent beginning some time in December.

The top reason for starting so early was to spread out budgets (61 percent), with another 48 percent saying they also want to avoid holiday crowds, and 46 percent saying they wanted to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping.

The most-requested gift items from survey respondents for the ninth year in a row is gift cards, followed closely by clothing or clothing accessories, and books, CDs, DVDs and video games.

“We continue to see positive momentum in retail sales growth, giving us reason to believe consumers will show up this holiday season as they look to take advantage of all of retailers’ promotional offerings,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “In an effort to attract all shoppers, from the extremely price sensitive to the online millennial, retailers will be offering exclusive incentives, low prices, price-matching, top toys and everyone’s favorite, free shipping and buy-online, pick-up-in-store offers.”

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