31% of consumers surveyed said they felt more favorable about giving gift cards than they did last year, while 34% said they are more favorable about receiving gift cards than they were in 2020.

Consumers took to heart warnings about supply-chain disruptions and got a jump on their holiday shopping this year, according to survey data from Pitney Bowes, a supplier of logistics technology and financial services.

Shoppers are also looking for deals, and about a third feel more positive than last year about giving or receiving gift cards. That trend could lead to buying surge early in the new year, as consumers give and accept more gift cards in 2021 than in years past—and then spend those cards early in 2022.

In a survey fielded in late November, Pitney Bowes found that more than half of U.S. consumers had already started shopping for the holidays. And those who started shopping said they completed nearly half (46%) of their planned purchases. Also, a third of consumers said they planned to shop Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals more this year than they did last year. Only 12% say they will shop for those deals less than in 2020.

The survey indicates that Black Friday—once known primarily as a day to head to malls—has become an online-first shopping holiday. Among those surveyed, 78% planned to do their Black Friday shopping online and 63% planned to finish online shopping by Dec. 13.

The findings come from the weekly BOXpoll consumer surveys more than 2,000 online shoppers. The data intelligence company Morning Consult conducts the surveys on behalf of Pitney Bowes. The most recent poll results were released Nov. 22.

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Whenever they start their shopping, U.S. consumers are poised to spend more than ever on holiday shopping. Digital Commerce 360 estimates that digital revenue for the November-December period could surpass the $200-billion mark for the first time—reaching $215.45 billion in ecommerce sales. That’s up from $192.19 billion over the same two months in 2020.

Strong holiday sales will drive total 2021 U.S. online retail sales to $886.20 billion, Digital Commerce 360 estimates: a 16.2% increase from $762.68 million in 2020 and a whopping 53.2% jump from $578.50 billion in 2019.

Gift cards could extend the season

Vijay Ramachandran, vice president of market strategy for global ecommerce at Pitney Bowes says gift card spending could soar this year. That’s partly due to anticipated inventory shortages, he says. He adds that shoppers who wait until the last minute to shop could face inventory shortages and shipping delays. Those shoppers, he adds, will likely turn to gift cards to finish their shopping.

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In the Pitney Bowes survey, 31% of respondents said they felt more favorable about giving gift cards than they did last year, while 34% said they are more favorable about receiving gift cards than they were in 2020.  Only 12% of consumers felt less favorable about giving gift cards than they did last year, while only 9% felt less favorable about receiving gift cards than they did last year.

According to the survey data, 58% plan to spend their received gift within days or a few weeks after the holiday. Ramachandran says that eagerness to spend gift cards quickly could extend the holiday shopping season into January, as consumers spend their gift cards online and in stores.

General merchandise store retailers like Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc. and Target Corp. are the most popular places to buy gift cards. 74% of shoppers said they’ve purchased a general merchandise store gift card, spending an average of $56.90. Apparel and footwear come in second ($51.05), with electronics following at a close third place ($50.60).

The researchers found that millennials (ages 25 to 40) lead gift card spending across nearly all product categories, representing 37% of dollars typically spent. Millennials also are significantly more generous with gift card buys than any other age group, spending an average of $30.95 across nearly all product categories. Baby boomers (57 to 75 years old) spent the least, an average of $14.52.

A September survey of 1,000 online shoppers from Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights found that 34% of online shoppers expected to purchase physical gift cards, and 20% indicate they will be placing an order for digital gift cards.

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Another survey, from branded prepaid card service Blackhawk Network found that U.S. consumers anticipate spending 41% of their holiday gifting budget on gift cards and purchasing 15 gift cards on average. Across the 10 countries Blackhawk surveyed, the firm expects a 27% increase in gift card spending in 2021, compared with 2020. The survey included 11,000 global adults who purchased gifts in the past 12 months and plan to shop during holiday 2021.

Dining and personal care & beauty gift cards will top shopping lists this year. The most popular gift card categories across the ten countries surveyed this holiday will be dining, personal care & beauty and clothing & accessories. Surveyed shoppers expect to shop for their gift cards at online-only retailers, mass merchandiser/big box stores, online retailers, grocery stores and convenience stores.

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