Nearly three-quarters of Canadians recently polled say they plan to start their holiday shopping early this year, and will use the internet to check and compare prices before buying gifts, two holiday retail studies suggest.
The surveys, by Deloitte Canada and Ernst & Young Canada, found that shoppers expect to modestly increase their holiday spending this year by between 2% and 3.5%. Last year, shoppers increased their spending by less than 2%.
The most popular gift items include tech gadgets, toys, clothing, books, jewelry and gift cards, according to the studies.
“If you really want the best price, you would be buying now,” said Brent Houlden, who is with Deloitte.
More than 40% of consumers, especially those in Atlantic Canada, have already started their shopping and some were out as early as August, said the survey.
Houlden said some consumers will have finished their Christmas shopping before Black Friday on Nov. 29, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving where retailers drastically slash pricing on merchandise.
“We’re optimistic that the consumer will be out shopping, but no one is going to clean up because it’s not crazy shopping,” he said. “People are just spending slightly more and there’s many more places to spend your money now.”
The surveys didn’t ask participants how much they anticipate their holiday spending will be this year.
Deloitte’s survey found that 73% of consumers check prices and research gifts online, while the EY survey found that 70% of Canadians research products online before buying.
The studies don’t agree, however, on whether researching for gifts online translates into sales.
The EY study found that 58% buy a product online after their web research, while the Deloitte survey found that just 18% of shoppers surveyed made online gift purchases after research.
Web shoppers, though, do expect deals.
“Online customers are even more price sensitive and interested in promotions than their traditional consumer counterparts,” said Daniel Baer, who is with EY.
Free and fast shipping is also important to holiday shoppers.
“People want things almost immediately. We’re going to see more of buy online and pick up in the store,” he said.
Deloitte found that the popularity of cross-border shopping to buy holiday gifts dropped again this year among those surveyed with 76% saying they weren’t going to make a trip to the United States, compared with 67% last year.
Deloitte’s Houlden said last-minute shoppers can still expect bargains but the deals are now happening “earlier and earlier.”
EY’s study found that those in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta will show the strongest holiday sales results.
Regionally, Deloitte found that consumers in the Greater Toronto area planned to spend 25.2% of their holiday budget online, followed by consumers in the Greater Vancouver area who intended to spend 23% of their budgets online.
The studies found that holiday sales were expected to be weak in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
The Deloitte study was done between Sept. 20-25 and sampled 2,008 adult Canadians, while the EY Canada study surveyed 1,542 Canadians. Both were conducted online.
The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.