The "2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey," sponsored by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and conducted by BIGresearch, surveyed 7,623 US consumers from October 4 to October 11, 2006, about their shopping plans for the upcoming holiday season.

The survey reveals significant demographic differences between consumers who planned to purchase holiday items online vs. those who said they would buy gifts from discount stores, department stores, specialty stores, catalogs and other retail channels. For one thing, online buyers tend to be more affluent. There is a 16.5-point difference between online buyers with annual incomes of $50,000 or more vs. those with annual incomes below $50,000. In no other channel is there as great a difference favoring the higher-income shoppers.

After retail Web sites, the channel that is most likely to attract upscale shoppers is specialty stores (such as a clothing, toy or electronic stores), where 42.7% of shoppers reported incomes less than $50,000 vs. 58.3% with incomes of $50,000 or more (a 15.6-point differential). Discount stores are the only channel with a higher percentage of consumers with income less than $50,000 (58.7%) than equal to or exceeding $50,000 (69.0%).

In terms of gender, 48.7% of male shoppers said they would purchase items online this holiday season compared with 45.5% of females. The shopping channel most skewed in favor of men is department stores, while women are most likely to buy from specialty stores. With regard to age, young shoppers, 18 to 34 years old, are more likely than any other age group to plan to buy holiday purchases on the Internet.

The NRF survey also examined the influence of the Internet on in-store purchases by gender. Apparel and appliances were the two categories most frequently researched online prior to in-store purchase. Apparel shoppers turn to the Internet to learn about fashion trends, locate retailers who carry particular brands and styles, and compare prices before going to a store to touch and feel merchandise. Appliance shoppers use the Internet to get evaluations and recommendations and compare product features and prices, especially for big ticket items like refrigerators and washing machines, before going to the store to inspect an item and ask questions of a salesperson.

Consumers are more than three times more likely to begin their online product research at Google than the second most popular starting point. Amazon is the top retail Web merchant consumers visit to do product research. Portals such as Yahoo!, MSN and AOL also appear high up on this list. Surprisingly, shopping search engines, which allow users to search for retailers who sell an item and then compare their prices, do not figure prominently on this list. Two such sites — CNET and BizRate — each drew only a half percent of consumer responses.

Some sites are more popular with one sex than the other. Consumer electronics and computer equipment sites such as Best Buy and CNET are more popular research tools for males than for females. Conversely, Wal-Mart and Overstock are more likely starting points for females doing online product research, perhaps because they are popular destinations for buying apparel and home furnishings, two categories more heavily shopped by females.