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Poll: Most Americans will do holiday shopping from home

More than two-thirds of U.S. shoppers will try to make the season bright amid a pandemic without heading to stores


A new CreditCards.com survey shows more than two out of three (71%) holiday shoppers plan to do most of their seasonal shopping online this year, up from just over half (51%) last year. Most say it’s because online shopping is convenient.

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Do you plan to buy holiday gifts in reindeer pajama bottoms from the comfort of your couch? You’ll be joined by throngs of other shoppers who also plan to forego shopping in person, a new poll shows.

The new CreditCards.com survey found that more than two out of three (71%) holiday shoppers plan to do most of their seasonal shopping online this year, up from just over half (51%) last year. (See survey methodology.)

Consumers cite a variety of reasons for doing their holiday buying online, from convenience to avoiding human contact in the midst of a pandemic to finding better deals.

“Holiday shopping is going to look very different this year,” says CreditCards.com industry analyst Ted Rossman. “COVID-19 is accelerating the existing trends toward e-commerce and digital payments.”

See related: Should you get a retail credit card during the pandemic?

Pandemic creates flurry of online holiday shopping

Shoppers of all ages plan to buy gifts and other holiday essentials online rather than crowding into big box stores, malls and local shops this year.

  • Millennials (ages 24-39) are the generation most likely to avoid stores this holiday season. In fact, 74% of millennials plan to shop online compared with 70% of Gen Zers (ages 18-23), 70% of Gen Xers (ages 40-55) and 70% of baby boomers (ages 56 to 74).
  • Though they face the highest risk from coronavirus, consumers from the Silent Generation (75 and older) are the ones most likely (40%) to say they plan to do their shopping in person.
  • Convenience is the top reason for shopping online, cited by 69% of shoppers. The older the shoppers, the more likely they are to choose convenience as their reason for shopping virtually. Only 60% of Gen Zers say they plan to avoid stores out of convenience, compared with 61% of millennials, 72% of Gen Xers, 76% of boomers and 83% of Silent Generation shoppers.
  • Since COVID-19 is riskier for older Americans, it’s surprising that the youngest holiday shoppers (59% of Gen Zers) were most likely to give “avoiding human contact” as their main reason for steering clear of stores. In contrast, only 48% of boomers and 47% of Silent Generation shoppers chose that reason.
  • Other popular reasons for shopping online this year are a bigger selection (44%) and finding better deals (46%).

One shopper who exemplifies this year’s shift online is Erica Hartwig, a wedding photographer and mother of five from Boca Raton, Florida. She and her mother usually hit stores bright and early the Friday after Thanksgiving. But due to concerns about the coronavirus, she’ll avoid crowded stores this year.

“It’s bittersweet because my mom and I always had fun shopping together,” she says. One silver lining: she expects to find good deals due to stores competing for online shoppers.

“I believe most stores will have Black Friday online like never before,” she says.

See related: Many Americans plan to spend less after the pandemic than before

Credit or debit? Paying for the holidays in 2020

The pandemic-driven recession may explain the fact that more holiday shoppers will be paying with debit cards than credit cards this year.

Here are the top three payment tools consumers plan to use for holiday shopping this year:

  • Debit: The poll found that debit is the most popular payment method this year, favored by 46% of holiday shoppers. That’s up from 42% last year.
  • Credit: Credit cards are the second favorite method of payment at 39%, down from 40% last year.
  • Cash: Given the big move toward online shopping, it’s no surprise that cash is less popular than ever at 15%, down from 18% last year.

Credit cards can lead to holiday debt, but they offer more consumer protections, along with perks like extended warranty and purchase protection, which covers an item that gets damaged or stolen within a certain time frame.

If you use your credit cards for holiday shopping, pretend you’re using a debit card and pay for your purchases as you go, says Luis Rosa, certified financial planner, founder of Build a Better Financial Future and host of the “On My Way to Wealth” podcast.

The credit card company may not allow you to make a payment if your balance is zero and the charges haven’t yet posted, Rosa says. As a workaround, add up the pending charges and put a notification on your calendar to make payment in that amount one or two days later.

“This way you don’t let the credit card balance rise and sneak up on you,” he says.

See related: How to avoid overspending during the pandemic

How to stretch your dollar with online holiday shopping

Planning to forego crowds, piped-in carols and mall Santas this season? Here’s how you can save money and reap rewards while shopping online for everyone on your list.

Make a list and check it twice

Start by making a list and deciding what to buy so you can track prices. Prices change frequently in the last few months of the year, especially in product categories like electronics, says Ian Sells, founder of Rebate Key, a site that provides rebates for product purchases.

Check Google Shopping to see which retailer is offering the best price on a product you want, he recommends. You can also use CamelCamelCamel, an Amazon price tracker, and the Rebate Key Chrome extension to automatically apply rebates and add coupons.

And you can head to Slickdeals, a community of deal seekers who vote on deals to let you know whether you’re really getting a good price, says Regina Conway, consumer shopping expert at Slickdeals.

“Dynamic pricing online can quickly change prices to make it less obvious if you’re really getting a deal,” she says.

Make holiday shopping a rewarding experience

Pour yourself some eggnog, turn on the twinkling lights and get rewarded for your generosity. You can rack up airline miles, cash back or points for each gift you buy.

Last year, consumers on average budgeted over $1,000 for winter holiday spending, according to the National Retail Federation. If you’re in the market for a new credit card, that level of spending could get close to a nice, big credit card sign-up bonus.

You’ll also want to snag any available card issuer deals. Check your credit cards for card-linked offers that allow you to get a chunk of points or cash back for a purchase. Some offers must be “added” to your card before you buy. Look for deals by signing into your credit card account via the app or online.

And finally, don’t forget to double-dip on rewards by using your rewards-earning credit card and a shopping portal, says Nick Ewen, senior editor of points and miles for The Points Guy. Portals are shopping “gateways” offered by airlines, credit card companies and others that will give you extra rewards on items you buy online.

“You’re still buying the exact same items from the exact same retailers – you’re just getting an added boost of points, miles or cash back by starting at the portal,” Ewen says.

One trick for finding the best deal: use Cashback Monitor to compare earning rates for a single retailer across multiple portals.

“It’s my go-to site for comparing where I’ll get the best return on my purchases,” Ewen says.

On the other hand, if you’re tight on cash this year due to the pandemic, it may be wise to do your shopping with unused credit card rewards points you’ve earned in the past, Conway says, noting that many consumers never use their points or miles.

“It may cost more in points than dollars,” she says. “But if you’re looking to save on your budget, now may be the time to cash in.”

Bundle gifts and strategize to cut shipping costs

Trimming isn’t just for trees and holiday turkeys – it’s also wise to trim shipping costs on your online purchases.

One easy way to cut shipping costs is to bundle purchases with the same retailer to hit the dollar amount required for free shipping or take advantage of Amazon Prime if you’re a member.

Another secret: see if you have a credit card that offers free ShopRunner membership as a perk. ShopRunner offers free two-day shipping from more than 100 stores. If your card has this benefit, you’ll have to enroll to get the free shipping.

Another shopper who plans to shift her shopping online this year, Lisa Sharp, blogger at Stress-Free Christmas, says she’s making an effort to buy more on sites like Etsy to support small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Like everyone else, she’s figuring out how to approach a season that will look very different from past holidays.

“My priority this year will be making memories the best we can, using virtual options when in person is not safe or possible,” she says.

Survey methodology

This online survey of 2,555 adults was conducted on behalf of CreditCards.com by YouGov between Aug. 26-28, 2020. The figures have been weighted and are representative of U.S. adults (ages 18 and older).

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The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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