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To maximize sales this season, retailers need to understand the purchase intentions of holiday consumers. That's why our clients use their insight communities to gather the data that they need to optimize their holiday marketing campaigns.

But if you don't have an insight community or if you'd like to compare your insights against a benchmark, it might help to know the intention of the general population.

Based on our survey of 1,006 Americans, here are six holiday insights that will help retailers make sense of consumer data:

  1. Forty percent of people have already started shopping for gifts.

Two out of every five people who intend to shop this holiday season have already started shopping. In fact, the majority of these people started near the tail end of November.

This explains why many retailers promote holiday shopping earlier on during the year. But before retailers start decorating their stores and begin blasting Christmas music during the middle of August, they need be wary of the negative consumer sentiment that may result from early holiday promotions.

  1. More people plan to start shopping on Black Friday than Cyber Monday.

Among customers who plan to kick-start their holiday shopping by attending a massive sale, more plan on starting on Black Friday (18%) than Cyber Monday (4%).

This is not to say that Cyber Monday wasn't a success for retailers. In fact, the opposite is true. According to American Express, Cyber Monday beat out Black Friday as the most popular shopping day, as more consumers (55% vs. 39% in 2012) said they'll shop at the virtual blowout sales instead of fighting the crowds the day after Thanksgiving (52% vs. 45% in 2012). Web sales this holiday season are projected to climb as much as 15% to $82 billion, more than three times faster than total retail growth of 3.9% to $602.1 billion.

As the popularity of Cyber Monday continues to grow, retailers that have a strong e-commerce presence should continue to invest marketing dollars towards the mega online shopping event. Brands that primarily rely on brick-and-mortar stores also need to figure out what they need to do to take advantage of the growing dominance of Cyber Monday.

  1. The top three items people plan to buy this holiday are clothes, gift cards, and electronics.

Your prospects are good if you want to receive clothes, gift cards, or electronics as gifts this holiday. The top three items people plan to purchase this holiday are clothes (64% of shoppers plan to purchase), followed by gift cards (59%) and electronics (50%).

The least sought-out items are books and jewelry; only 29% of holiday shoppers plan to buy books and only 22% plan to buy jewelry.

Knowing what popular items people plan to buy for the holidays can help you optimize where you place your products on your websites or stores.

  1. Men are twice as more likely than women to shop online this holiday season.

Online shoppers are disproportionately male: 62% of those who plan to shop (at least partially) online are male while only 32% are female. For retailers who have different marketing strategies for each gender, this number can help them decide how much to allocate to their online versus in-store advertising budgets.

  1. One-third of holiday shoppers plan to spend less this holiday season than previous years.

A third of American shoppers are cutting down their holiday budget. This may not be a big surprise since a recent study showed a decrease in real disposable income during the first quarter of 2013.

But it's not all grim news for retailers as 18% plan to spend more, and 55% of shoppers intend to spend nearly the same amount money as they did last year, mitigating the possible impact of the shrinking expenditures of that one-third. While 13% of Americans do not plan to shop this holiday season, retailers should talk to their customers to figure out what drives the purchases of those who plan to brave shopping malls and visit e-commerce sites this season.

  1. Nearly 70% of people plan to spend $500 or less this holiday season.

Knowing how much the typical customer spends can help retailers better price their products. According to our study, 30% of seasonal shoppers plan to drop between $100 and $299 this season, while 26% plan to spend between $300 and $499, and 16% plan to spend over $700.

Understanding variations in how different consumers do their holiday shopping is one of the most important segmentations retailers can do on their customer base. Our insights into the variations among the overall consumer population should encourage retailers to conduct research on their own specific customer segments for the next holiday shopping season.

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