On-line searching for holidays exceeds 2020 pandemic excessive, CNBC financial survey reveals

Click. Click. Gift.

After a two-year slump below its pandemic high, online shopping made a comeback this holiday season. The CNBC All-America Economic Survey finds 57% of Americans naming online shopping as their top one or two destinations for Christmas gifts.

In 2006, online shopping accounted for just 18% of responses. It hit an all-time high in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, when 55% responded it was the top destination. It scaled back to 51% last year, holding on to some but not all of its pandemic gains. But this year, hit yet another all-time high.

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The survey of 1,002 Americans throughout the country was conducted Dec. 8 through 12 and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%.

The reason for the surge is unclear but a look at those spending more online this year suggests it could center around a search for bargains to combat inflation. Among those groups spending more online are women 50 and older who as a group reported more frugal holiday spending plans than average and are more concerned about inflation and the overall condition of the economy. Still, the group shops less online than younger women aged 18-49. Also spending more online this year than last are those with incomes below $30,000 and those who plan to spend only $200 on gifts, far below the $1,300 average.

“We know from the rest of the data that inflation is a major factor in why people are spending less and more,” said Micah Roberts of Public Opinion Strategies, the Republican pollster for the survey.  “Everything costs more, so you’re going to have to spend more to buy it.”

Amazon top destination

While groups differ over how much they spend online, where they spend is fairly uniform: Amazon. Once again — and continuously since the question was first asked six years ago — Amazon is the No. 1 destination for online shopping and no one else is really close. Back in 2017, just 35% of the public said Amazon was their top online destination. Today, that percentage has risen to a commanding 74%, unchanged from last year but below its 2019 high.

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The only other competitor, Walmart, has made some modest gains, rising to 16% from 12% last year and from just 4% in 2017. Specialty goods stores, like Etsy and local store websites, also gained from 8% to 14%.

Americans say they plan to use debt to pay for gifts this year in about the same percentages as prior, with 31% saying they will carry a balance from holiday spending, up 1 point from last year. But 10% say they will use “buy-now-pay-later” plans.

The full survey can be viewed here.

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