Holiday Shopping
By: Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D

If you're perusing sale fliers and websites for winter holiday gifts while wearing T-shirts and shorts, you're not alone. The calendar still says summer, but millions of Americans have already started -- and a few have even finished -- their holiday shopping.

A scientific poll of 1,004 U.S. adults commissioned by found that 14 percent of consumers -- about 32 million adults based on U.S. Census estimates -- have begun holiday shopping. And 2 percent, or about 4.6 million, are ultra-early birds: They're already done.

To be sure, huge swathes of the American public steadfastly refuse to let holiday shopping slip into summer, or even fall. More than half of us (55 percent of holiday shoppers) won't finish until sometime in December. One in 5 won't be done until Christmas Eve.

But for many, holiday shopping keeps creeping earlier into the year. When asked whether they'd be starting holiday shopping earlier or later this year, 15 percent of consumers said they'd start earlier, compared to just 4 percent saying they would start later, according to the survey (see "Survey methodology").

Poll findings

Here's what else the poll uncovered about early shoppers:

Early birds want to save time, money

Overall, Americans are expected to spend approximately $886 billion on holiday shopping this year, according to eMarketer. For most of us, that's still off in the future: 80 percent of consumers haven't started holiday shopping yet. However, those already buying holiday goodies are setting themselves up for a more relaxed holiday season -- and may save some time and money along the way.

Asked to name their main method of holiday shopping this year, poll respondents said:
60%In person at retail stores
23%Online, using a desktop or laptop computer
7%Online, using a mobile device such as a cellphone or tablet
2%From mail order catalogs
7%Other, don't know or refused
Source: survey of 940 U.S. adults who said they planned to shop for the holidays. Margin of error plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. See survey methodology.

"Last-minute shoppers are not able to do the comparison shopping the early shoppers can do," said Kathleen Gurney, CEO of Financial Psychology Corp.

Who else shops early? The poll found white respondents are more likely than nonwhites to start holiday shopping early, 16 percent to 9 percent. Parents are also more proactive holiday shoppers, as 20 percent of have begun shopping, compared to only 11 percent of nonparents.

Advertising starts early, too

Retail promotions have shifted at least two weeks earlier over the past five years and holiday promotions often conclude by Thanksgiving, to a 2015 holiday retail trends study conducted by Centro Inc. found.

"What traditionally was held on Black Friday or Cyber Monday is now being held weeks, and even months, before the holidays," said Andrew Johnson, communications manager for financial counseling organization GreenPath Debt Solutions. "It certainly could be to your advantage to start looking now."

All those early holiday advertisements may be working, as 23 percent of consumers will finish their holiday shopping by the end of November, according to the poll.

'I don't like to be rushed'

Early holiday shopper Pamela Toler, a writer and historian from Chicago, enjoys reducing holiday costs, but values fewer crowds and less stress even more.

"I don't like to be rushed, and this way I can enjoy the holiday," she said.

An excess of leisure time may help explain why those 65 and older may have more presents ready than their children.

"Older people do have the time to think more about these things," Gurney said. "I just think they are not as overwhelmed by other aspects of life. They have less stress and more joy in doing this now than you will if you wait."

Starting early helps cushion budgets

Tackling shopping lists well before the holidays can help lessen the financial burden. Melanie DeCarolis, a wine educator from Boston, starts her holiday shopping in early July, wrapping up before the end of August to ensure she can more easily afford presents for all her nieces, nephews and godchildren.

"If I put shopping off until December, I have only two paychecks left for it," she explained. "This way I can spread the cost out and the financial burden isn't so onerous."

Overall, 15 percent of holiday shopping respondents said they'd like to start shopping for the holidays earlier than last year and 14 percent would like to finish shopping earlier as well, according to poll results. Younger consumers are more likely to feel this way as 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they want to procrastinate less and shop early compared to just 9 percent of those over the age of 50.

"The millennial generation always seems to be, 'Go, go, go!'" Johnson explained. "They are always on the move and using apps to help them find the best deal in the shortest amount of time."

Wealthier individuals not in a hurry

Those who haven't started holiday shopping yet tend to be more financially secure. At least 80 percent of older (at least 50 years old), wealthier (annual income of more than $50,000), white respondents said they aren't planning on changing their holiday shopping habits this year.

"Their shopping is less stressful because they have more options," Gurney said. "They don't have the same constraints others do. They can buy something they like on the spot instead of looking around for a better price."

Less affluent consumers don't have that luxury, which may help explain why most individuals who make less than $30,000 a year say they will finish shopping by the end of November compared to the end of December, like 71 percent of those who make more than $75,000 annually.

Employed people are also comfortable delaying shopping, as 64 percent of all at least part-time employed respondents said they expect to finish shopping in December. Some unemployed consumers may have already bought what they can for the holidays, as 4 percent of unemployed respondents said they are done shopping for the holidays already compared to less than 1 percent of both part- and full-time employed respondents.

"It can be a very difficult being unemployed as the holidays approach," Johnson said. "People need to take care of the essentials like housing, food, electric bill, etc., and then consider gifts."

Survey methodology

The poll was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International September 3-6, 2015. Princeton obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,004 adults 18 years or older livings in the continental U.S., including 940 holiday shoppers. Interviews were conducted by landline and cellphone in both English and Spanish. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies such as age, sex, race, education and geographic location. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, and plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for holiday shoppers.


Total holiday shoppers Mainly online holiday shoppers Mainly retail holiday shoppers
Already finished
2 2 2
October or earlier 4 44
17 20 17
60 58
       Week before

11 11
       Christmas Eve
21 22
       Christmas Day
5 5
After holiday season
2 2
1 3
Don't plan on shopping
3 3
Don't know 11
7 10

Source: poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Sept. 3-6, 2015


© 2022 Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D. All rights reserved