Many research shops have issued their holiday shopping forecasts in recent weeks. Forecasters at the Wilkes University MBA program are no exception and expect sales to increase 3.5% this year. The Wilkes University outlook also contains key shopping pattern data that retailers may find helpful as they prepare their advertising budgets.

Forecasters remind readers that the 2011 holiday season will contain 30 days this year – between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This gives shoppers a little extra time to visit the stores. Typically, sales during this period comprise between 25%-30% of the total year’s activity. And when looking at the holiday sales period, here’s how the spending breaks out:

  •  Thanksgiving weekend sales as a part of the holiday total: 10%
  • Weekend before Christmas: 30%
  • Week between Christmas and New Year’s: 10%

While media attention is often focused on Black Friday as a leading indicator of the holiday season, the Saturday before Christmas is when retailers see the most traffic.

The researchers also report that merchants should pay attention to the changing metrics of the gift card market. For one thing, the amount of money spent on an individual gift card varies by ethnicity of the recipient:

  •  Hispanics $70
  • African Americans $60
  • Whites $40

In addition, during a heavy discount shopping season, which occurs when merchants have purchased too much inventory, sales of gift cards often fall. This is because consumers prefer to purchase hard goods to secure deep discounts. Merchants will have the best luck promoting gift cards near the end of the holiday shopping season when inventories are low and consumers can’t find specific items.

Dr. Liuzzo reminds readers that online shoppers also exhibit specific patterns. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, will continue to be the biggest day for online spending. During the holiday season, Mondays are also the best sales day for these merchants. And online sales are typically strong until the 2nd Monday in December. Merchants can also boost online sales traffic near the end of the holiday sales cycle by promoting free shipping day.

Merchants that study patterns of consumer shopping behavior can adjust their promotions to make the biggest impact in what is expected to be a somewhat restrained holiday season in 2011.

[Source: Liuzzo, Anthony, Dr. Wilkes University. Holiday Sales Forecast. September 2011. Web. 15 Oct. 2011