November 02, 2011 08:30 ET

AAA Northern New England Poll: High Gas Prices, Economy Affect Holiday Shopping Budgets and Behaviors

PORTLAND, ME--(Marketwire - Nov 2, 2011) - High gas prices are weighing on many local consumers' minds as they plan their holiday shopping lists, according to AAA Northern New England's Third Annual Holiday Shopping Poll.

Seventy-one 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, Northern New England gas prices were averaging nearly $4 a gallon. This year is on track to be the most expensive one ever for Northern New England gas prices, with a current year-to-date average price of $3.62 for Maine and Vermont, and $3.54 for New Hampshire.

But even with that concern, more than half of those polled -- 58 percent -- said they plan to spend about the same amount on holiday gifts as last year and four percent plan to spend more. Thirty-eight 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 17 percent of surveyed local residents who said they would spend a lot less on gifts this year cited multiple reasons, including:

  • Too many other expenses/bills: 70 percent
  • High gas prices: 62 percent
  • Anticipated high costs for heating this winter: 56 percent
  • Rising prices for household necessities other than gas: 56 percent
  • Reduced household income: 39 percent

Sixty-five percent of local consumers 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 (38 percent); looking for less expensive gifts (34 percent); doing more research to get the best price (30 percent); spending the same amount on children, but less on adults (24 percent); using more coupons (21 percent); and using membership programs such as AAA to receive discounts more often (20 percent).

"Economic concerns and high gas prices are making consumers more careful about how they spend their holiday gift budgets," said Pat Moody, AAA Northern New England manager for public affairs. "We recommend that holiday shoppers plan out their routes with online mapping or a tool such as the free AAA Discounts smartphone app to save gas, time, and money."

Gift cards or gift certificates are the most popular gift item for the holidays, according to the AAA Northern New England poll. Seventy-two percent of those polled will have gift cards on their shopping lists.

Other popular gift categories are: apparel and accessories (63 percent); books (63 percent); toys (43 percent); DVDs/videos (36 percent); jewelry (29 percent); music (28 percent); sporting goods (27 percent); consumer electronics such as smartphones, tablets, or eReaders (26 percent); video games/gaming systems (22 percent); event tickets (20 percent); and flowers/cards (20 percent).

The survey also showed that 71 percent of local consumers plan to pay for at least some gifts with a credit card, and of those shoppers, 78 percent will use a card that gives some type of rewards or cash back. "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," Moody said.

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. Eight percent said $2.50 a gallon, 15 percent said $3, 21 percent said $3.50, 26 percent said $4, eight percent said $4.50, seven percent said $5, one percent said $6, two percent said $10, two percent said no price under $10, and 10 percent said they didn't know.

Among the 71 percent who said that high gas prices are currently affecting their spending decisions:

  • 81 percent indicated they have cut back on unnecessary driving;
  • 61 percent are spending less money eating out at restaurants;
  • 51 percent are putting less money into savings;
  • 39 percent are spending less money on holiday gifts;
  • 33 percent will search for discounts and specials on holiday gifts and travel;
  • 25 percent are not taking a trip over the holidays;
  • 22 percent will spend less money on their holiday trip;
  • 17 percent use a discount program for purchases such as AAA; and
  • 17 percent check the Internet for locations of the cheapest gas stations.

The AAA Northern New England Holiday Shopping Poll was conducted online by the AAA Marketing Research Department between Oct. 4 and Oct. 20 and surveyed 299 AAA Northern New England members. It has a margin of error of +/-5 percent and the differences between 2011 and 2010 results were tested for statistical significance at a 95 percent confidence level.

Contact Information

    Pat Moody
    (207) 780-6919