It's harder to pretend "it's the thought that counts" as gift cards—which are, after all, money in a slightly different form—expand their share of consumers' holiday shopping. A Deloitte & Touche USA survey finds 66 percent of consumers intending to buy gift cards this holiday season. That's about the same as last year. The difference is that people who buy gift cards will be buying more of them—an average of 4.6 this year, vs. 3.9 last year. This means, of course, that recipients will be "spending" more cards early next year, augmenting the size of this secondary holiday-shopping season. Thirty-five percent of this poll's respondents said they'd rather receive a gift card than merchandise, although 22 percent said they don't like giving gift cards, finding them "too impersonal." Meanwhile, an NPD Group poll, fielded in September but released just this month, found 23 percent of consumers claiming they'd already started their holiday shopping, with another 22 percent planning to begin before Thanksgiving. Thus, with shopping starting earlier and gift-card usage extending into the new year, we now have a holiday-purchasing season that extends over five months. No wonder some merchants put up Christmas decorations by Halloween. The chart below, drawing on data from the Deloitte poll, gives a sense of where people will be spending their time and money. Another poll, conducted by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation, finds 47 percent of consumers planning to make at least one holiday purchase online this year. On average, online purchases will account for 29 percent of their holiday shopping.