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Holiday Shopping Behavior: 78% of Consumers Spending Same or More in 2021

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By now, you’ve probably grown tired of hearing endless Christmas jingles. But as you’re wrapping up your gift shopping, you might be curious about general consumer spending trends this holiday season. No matter how dire the economic climate or supply chain issues may be, apparently nothing was stopping the unparalleled force of consumerism in 2021.

A recent survey from Omaha, Neb.-based analytics and consulting firm The Strawhecker Group (TSG) and Washington, D.C.-based advocacy and trade group Electronic Transactions Association (ETA) shows shoppers — despite high inflation and the pandemic — continuing to spend this Christmastime.

That’s right: More than 3 in 4 (78%) U.S. shoppers planned to spend the same or more this holiday season — up from 64% last year.

Shopping, shipping concerns prevalent

While shoppers weren’t planning to shy away from spending money, they did have some concerns — their top one was that gifts wouldn’t be affordable (61%).

They were also worried about:

  • Shipping delays (56%)
  • Availability of certain products (56%)
  • Empty shelves (55%)
  • In-person shopping safety (related to COVID-19) (47%)
  • Long lines due to staffing shortages (43%)

Concerns aside, transactions up 14% in 2021

The survey also highlights data from TSG’s Acquiring Industry Metrics (AIM) platform, revealing a 14% increase in the number of transactions between September 2020 and September 2021. Further, shoppers were shelling out 7% more in e-commerce transactions than in 2020.

So where were Americans doling out cash this year where they weren’t last year? Credit card and debit card spending on motion pictures jumped 471% — yes, 471%. Apparel spending was up 32%, while grocery spending jumped 6%.

Meanwhile, active lifestyle merchants saw mixed results. While sports apparel and home supply stores saw year-over-year boosts of 21% and 17%, respectively, sporting goods stores saw sales fall 3%.

More consumers are shopping online than in stores

More than 8 in 10 (84%) respondents said they’ve planned to shop online, versus 72% in stores. In-store shoppers were targeting department stores and major retailers (62%) over local shops and businesses (36%) and discount retailers and thrift shops (27%).

Online, 63% of consumers were looking to spend their dough at online marketplaces, like Amazon and Etsy, while 62% say they’ll use retail sites. Another 7% were making plans to shop through social media platforms, with 4% doing so through livestreamed events.

The most popular online marketplaces, according to respondents:

  • Amazon (79%)
  • Walmart (51%)
  • Target (31%)
  • eBay (24%)
  • Etsy (21%)
  • Facebook (11%)
  • Wish (7%)
  • Wayfair (7%)

Buy now, pay later users intend to continue

An April LendingTree survey found 31% of consumers have used buy now, pay later (BNPL) services. Meanwhile, the TSG and ETA data show two-thirds (67%) of BNPL users planned to continue doing so, up from 48% last year.

Meanwhile, 72% of consumers planned to keep their digital wallets active this year, up from 63% in 2020, and 57% of contactless QR code users planned to continue doing so in the future, up from 50% last year.

That said, credit and debit cards reign supreme as the payment option of choice, whether in a store using a chip (66%) or online (63%); cash came in third at 47%.

These were followed by:

  • Contactless credit or debit cards (26%)
  • Digital wallets (22%)
  • Gift cards and reloadable cards (20%)
  • P2P apps (e.g., Venmo, Cash App and PayPal) (16%)
  • Digital BNPL (12%)
  • Saved account payment shortcuts (e.g., one-click payments) (11%)
  • Checks (5%)
  • Mobile QR codes (5%)
  • Cryptocurrency (2%)

But if you’ve already checked everyone off on your gift list and your fridge and kitchen pantry are well stocked, now might be a nice time to kick back and reflect. Take some time to see how much debt you’ve put on your credit cards — if you did — and start making a plan to pay it off.

Methodology: TSG and ETA surveyed 512 U.S. consumers, fielded between Oct. 18 and Oct. 25, 2021.