Here is what the experts are thinking as the holiday shopping season kicks off in earnest this weekend.
U.S. households are expected to spend an average of $476 on gifts during the holiday season, up from last year's estimate of $455, The Conference Board reported in its Holiday Spending Survey for 2004.
This could translate into a 4.5 percent lift in retail sales compared to last year, the board reported. The Conference Board surveys a nationally representative sample of 5,000 households to gauge holiday spending intentions.
"Consumers appear to have more holiday cheer heading into Thanksgiving this year than last year," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board's Consumer Research Center. "This upbeat attitude should translate into a more favorable holiday season for retailers."
The top holiday spenders will be Middle Atlantic households (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) who intend to spend $550. Lowest holiday spending will be in the Pacific (Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska, Hawaii), where households expect to spend $400.
About 33 percent of all households will spend $500 or more on holiday gifts, with 37 percent spending $200-$500 and the remaining 30 percent planning to spend less than $200.
About 29 percent of all consumers will buy holiday gifts on the Internet, up from 28 percent a year ago. Books top the list of online holiday buying, with nearly 41 percent saying they will buy books as gifts. Clothing and shoes rank next as online holiday buying choices, followed closely by toys and music CDs.
About 28 percent said they bought holiday gifts last year on the Internet and 93 percent said they were satisfied with their online buying experience.
Other key findings in The Conference Board survey:
* Households headed by individuals ages 35-44 and 45-54 intend to spend the most this year, with $509 the average expenditure.
* Households headed by those ages 65 and over represent the third largest spending group. For them, average expenditures are expected to reach $469.
* Households whose incomes top $50,000 intend to spend $661 for holiday gifts.
Source: The Conference Board is a not-for-profit organization that conducts research and assesses trends.
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