KING OF PRUSSIA — Deloitte retail expert Bill Park not only finds out where and how shoppers intend to do their Christmas spending, he's always right there in the thick of things come Black Friday morning to confirm his findings from Deloitte's Annual Holiday Survey.

The survey includes both a national and Philadelphia-specific snapshot of what shoppers’ buying habits will look like.

“I’m watching people shop, looking at the bags they’re carrying, talking to sales associates, finding out what the deals are," Park noted in 2018 at King of Prussia Mall, where he'll be returning this year. "We did our surveys and we knew what to expect and now I’m observing.”

So what is Park expecting this year?

"The majority in our survey said they will spend as much, if not more than they did last year," he said. "Whats interesting, on top of that, is that when we asked about the economy for next year they haven't been as optimistic as they have been the last couple of years. Forty two percent expect the economy to weaken next year, up from 27 percent who said so in last year’s survey."

Although the malls will be mobbed on Black Friday and any given day over the Thanksgiving weekend, mass merchants (Target, Walmart) are second only to the internet for locations where people will shop this holiday season according to the Deloitte survey.

Traditional department stores are expected to be the third most popular shopping destination, Park allowed.

"This ranking has remained fairly stable over the last five years according to our survey results," he said.

Other findings indicate that the bulk ($596 nationally and $510 in Philadelphia) will go to spending on experiences and celebrations —including entertaining at home and socializing away from home (including travel and restaurants).

"I think in Philadelphia, as opposed to nationally, there is more being spent on gifts ... a little less on socializing than gifts, compared to the national trend. That's in line with what we've seen in the past with Philadlephia area shoppers," Park noted.

"There are a couple of interesting trends that came out of this this year. The earlier the customer shops, the more they plan on spending, and I think that's important because there's one week less to shop between Thaksgiving and New Year's," Park said. "The ways that the stores get those people out early this year was important because they tend to spend more than those who wait until later in December to do their shopping."

Thirty-five percent of consumers planned to begin holiday shopping before the end of October and 60 percent before Thanksgiving, Park pointed out..

Philadelphia consumers are feeling fairly merry with money this year, planning to spend $1,426 on average this holiday season – an increase of $147 from 2018 and only slightly less than the 2019 national average of $1,496.

"Even though overall average spending is up this year, that doesn’t mean that Philadelphia shoppers aren’t still looking for places to save a few dollars," Park added. "Seventy seven say price discounts are the most appealing holiday promotion. When it comes to shipping costs, 85 percent of consumers prioritize free shipping over fast shipping, and 68 percent of consumers are willing to wait up to seven days for their free shipping."

Additional highlights from Deloitte’s survey:

• Shopping for holiday gifts online continues to be the preferred avenue for Philadelphia consumers, increasing 7 year this year to 64 percent.

• The top gift on consumers’ purchasing lists this year is gift cards (53 percent plan to buy), followed closely by clothing (50 percent plan to buy).

• Fifty two percent of shoppers now prefer shopping online versus store shopping during the holidays, according to Deloitte, Park said.

"In-store purchasing for our region is holding steady at 36 percent this year, while online share of spending continues to increase, up 2 percent from 2018. So, online continues to be significant in terms of where people want to spend their money. Online continues to grow," Park noted. "So retailers need to think about how to get people to spend earlier and how to get them online, because that's where they're comfortable spending."

Deloitte found that buying via smartphone continues to climb every year, with 70 percent of smartphone users saying they expect to make a purchase from their device, up from 41 percent nationally just five years ago

Free shipping is by far the biggest online incentive, Park pointed out. "Most people will shop between both channels, but they really want a seamless experience between the two channels. And they don't really make a distinction between the two, so retailers who can combine the two experiences will do the best. I think a lot of retailers have spent a lot of money to make sure their systems are (working) so that it feels and looks similar for the customer, regardless of whether you're in the store or online," Park added. "So if you're in the store and they're out of something they can look it up online and say 'we can have it shipped to your house tomorrow. And by the way, we can ship it for free.' That's how they're going to convert foot traffic to customers."

With multi-channel engagement platform Leanplum having announced the results of its own study, which found that 16 percent of younger Americans (Millennials and Gen Zs) are strictly shopping online this holiday season, many observers may wonder why the Black Friday mall shoppers will overwhelming skew toward the college-age crowd.

The youthful contradictions seem to abound, given Deloitte's findings as well.

"Our Deloitte Holiday survey showed that Millennials clearly favor the online channel," Park said. "Fifty-five percent of Millennials prefer internet shopping over physical stores. In terms of shopping in stores on Black Friday, 60 percent of Millennials plan to be out shopping this Friday. This compares with their younger cohorts, GenZ, in which we expect 82 percent to be out at stores on Black Friday."

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