Mark Dolliver: Naughty or Nice?

Forget Christmas carols, mistletoe and department-store Santa Clauses. You really know it’s the season to be merry when desks are piled high with forecasts of holiday spending.

With gas prices again climbing and the stock market jittery, predictions of how much people will spend seem more than ever like guesswork. For what it’s worth, BIGresearch polling for the National Retail Federation found consumers expect to do an average of $923 in holiday shopping (including $107 on themselves), up 3.7 percent from 2006. International Communications Research (ICR) found 30 percent of adults plan to spend less this year than last, while 13 percent plan to spend more and most of the rest expect to spend the same. (But do people truly recall how much they spent a year ago?) One little-noted factor will help prop up spending: 64 percent of Americans have discretionary income, says a Conference Board report, up significantly from the 52 percent who did so in 2002.

What will people buy? Gift cards, of course. Deloitte & Touche found 69 percent plan to buy gift cards/certificates this year (averaging 5.5 cards apiece), topping the number who’ll buy clothing/shoes (56 percent), CDs/DVDs (45 percent), books (40 percent), toys/dolls (39 percent) or jewelry (24 percent).

Though the Internet gets a growing share, ICR found people expect to do the bulk of their spending at real stores (see the chart). In polling by The NPD Group, 60 percent of consumers said they’ll buy at discount stores, vs. 36 percent shopping online. Among other leading venues: national chains (37 percent), electronics stores (27 percent), department stores (26 percent), warehouse clubs (24 percent), outlet stores (22 percent) and toy stores (22 percent).