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Holiday Shoppers Count On Online Research

A majority of consumers say they'll use social networks, websites, and smartphones to get advice, deals, and coupons before they buy.

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For the first time in six years, consumers expect to spread a little more holiday cheer, although they plan to carefully research their planned purchases online and via social networks.

In fact, 72% of those polled plan to use online research, and 17% will use their smartphones to look into the gifts they plan to buy this holiday season, according to Deloitte's 25th Annual Holiday Survey. In addition, 12% said they will use social media sites such as Facebook to help in their gift-making decisions, the study found.

"While two-thirds report a better financial situation in 2010, three-quarters have put an emphasis on saving money. Other key findings show consumers are ready to use technology to help them save," according to Deloitte.

More than half -- 56% -- of shoppers are taking to the Internet to compare prices, up from 45% last year, found Deloitte. Consumers tap social networks to find gift ideas, coupons, discounts, and sale information, respondents said. Of Generation Y shoppers, aged 18-29, one fourth plan to visit social media sites to aid their holiday shopping, the survey said.

This year, consumers plan to spend an average of $466 on gifts, the first increase since 2004, according to Deloitte.

"Consumers' total anticipated holiday spend this year rose slightly to $1,160 from $1,145 in 2009 on gift and non-gift categories that include socializing away from home, entertaining, non-gift clothing, and home/holiday furnishings," the report said.

But that does not mean American shoppers view the economy through rose-colored glasses. In fact, only 39% of respondents expect the economy to improve next year, down from 54% who predicted an improvement at this time last year, the study found. On the other hand, 66% of those polled said their individual household financial situation is the same or better than it was 12 months ago, a 10% improvement over 2009, according to Deloitte.

As a result, almost three-quarters of those surveyed expect to change the way in which they shop this holiday season. Among respondents, 46% plan to use cash, while 36% have permanently reduced the amount of money they spend, the survey of 12,418 consumers found.

Although shoppers will continue to swap a lot of their cash for gift cards, the number dropped slightly: The average total number of cards that consumers plan to buy slipped to five, from 5.4 in 2009, according to Deloitte. That's not to say they're not popular among recipients. Indeed, 44% of consumers prefer gift cards to merchandise, a number that continues to rise from 35% in 2006, Deloitte said.

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