Auto Club Poll: High Gas Prices, Economy Affect Holiday Shopping Budgets and Behaviors

(LOS ANGELES – Nov. 2, 2011) – High gas prices are weighing on most Southern California consumers’ minds as they plan their holiday shopping lists, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Third Annual Holiday Shopping Poll.
 
 
Seventy percent of those surveyed said that high gas prices are currently having a significant effect on their household budget – lower than the 77 percent in May of this year who said gas prices were impacting their budgets. At that time, Southern California gas prices were averaging more than $4.20 a gallon.
 
But even with that concern, more than half of those polled – 52 percent – said they plan to spend about the same amount on holiday gifts as last year and eight percent plan to spend slightly more. Thirty-nine percent of polled local consumers said they plan to spend “slightly less” or “a lot less” on holiday gifts this year compared to last year.
 
The 16 percent of surveyed Southern Californians who said they would spend a lot less on gifts this year cited multiple reasons, including:
 
  • Too many other expenses/bills: 67 percent
  • Reduced household income: 56 percent
  • Rising prices for household necessities other than gas: 48 percent
  • High gas prices: 35 percent
  • Unemployed member of household: 25 percent
 
Nearly three-quarters of Southern Californians plan to change their gift shopping habits compared to last year in order to get more out of their holiday budgets. The top methods cited for saving money on gifts include: using free shipping offers online (40 percent); looking for less expensive gifts (38 percent); doing more research to get the best price (35 percent); shopping more at discount stores (32 percent); using more coupons (24 percent); spending the same amount on children, but less on adults (21 percent); and using an affinity program such as AAA for shopping discounts (20 percent).
 
“Economic concerns and high gas prices are making consumers more careful about how they spend their holiday gift budgets,” said Denise Bialek, the Auto Club’s group manager of member value programs. “To make it easier for members to take advantage of AAA discounts while holiday shopping, the current issue of Westways magazine has a savings guide of coupons highlighting discounts with popular retailers such as Omaha Steaks, MattelShop.com and Gap Outlet stores.”
 
For the first year since the poll was first taken in 2009, gift cards or certificates were listed as the most popular gift item for the holidays, surpassing apparel and accessories. Sixty-seven percent of those polled will have gift cards on their holiday lists – about the same as last year, while 60 percent plan to give apparel and accessories – down from 68 percent last year.
 
Other popular gift categories were books (46 percent); toys (42 percent); DVDs/videos (35 percent); consumer electronics such as smartphones, tablets, or eReaders (31 percent); jewelry (30 percent); music (25 percent); video games/gaming systems (23 percent); flowers/cards (22 percent); and sporting goods (20 percent). Two notable changes compared to last year for these categories were a drop in planned purchases of consumer electronics (31 percent vs. 36 percent in 2010) and video games/gaming systems (23 percent vs. 30 percent in 2010).
 
“The survey also showed that 72 percent of local consumers plan to pay for at least some gifts with a credit card, and of those shoppers, 55 percent will use a card that gives rewards points for any purchase,” Bialek said. “Consumers are getting savvier about how to use credit cards like the AAA Member Rewards Visa so they can either redeem points for an additional holiday gift on their list, or accumulate those points to help with a big-ticket wish like a vacation.”
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Regarding gas prices, those surveyed were also asked at what price point they would significantly change how much they drive or how much fuel they used. Sixteen percent said $3.50 a gallon, 28 percent said $4 a gallon, 10 percent said $4.50 a gallon, 12 percent said $5 a gallon, and 12 percent said they didn’t know.
 
Among the 70 percent who said that high gas prices are currently affecting their spending decisions:
  • 80 percent indicated they have cut back on unnecessary driving;
  • 60 percent are spending less money eating out at restaurants;
  • 49 percent are putting less money into savings;
  • 42 percent are spending less money on holiday gifts;
  • 35 percent are not taking a trip over the holidays;
  • 31 percent will spend less money on their holiday trip;
  • 31 percent will search for discounts and specials on holiday gifts and travel;
  • 24 percent use a discount program for purchases such as AAA; and
  • 19 percent check the Internet for locations of the cheapest gas stations.
 
The Auto Club’s Holiday Shopping Poll was conducted online by the Auto Club’s Marketing Research Department between Oct. 4 and Oct. 20 and surveyed 557 Auto Club members. It has a margin of error of +/-4 percent and the differences between 2011 and 2010 results were tested for statistical significance at a 95 percent confidence level.
 
 

Media Contacts

Marie Montgomery
(714) 885-2333
Montgomery.Marie@aaa-calif.com