The environment is increasingly on consumers' radar screens, according to the 22nd Annual Holiday Survey of retail spending and trends, commissioned by Deloitte. The survey reports that almost one in five consumers (18 percent) will purchase more "eco-friendly" products this holiday season than in the past, and a similar number (17 percent) will shop at more "green" retailers.

Additionally, almost one-third of consumers (27 percent) surveyed will use fewer plastic bags from supermarkets and other stores this holiday season, and one in five (20 percent) will consider not wrapping holiday gifts to conserve paper. Surprisingly, these responses concerning the environment and holiday shopping intentions were consistent across gender, age and income groups.

"Most importantly, a significant number of people - 17 percent - are willing to pay more for 'green' gifts or supplies, which tells us that this issue is on shoppers' minds this year and is becoming more central to consumers' purchasing decisions," said Stacy Janiak, Deloitte's U.S. Retail Leader. "Savvy retailers are taking concrete steps to become more environmentally friendly, and are incorporating this sensibility into their operations, as well as their customer communications. At the same time, they should be cautious about promoting their eco-initiatives too early, before they've made real progress, due to the potential for consumer backlash."

Clothing and Games Continue to Be among Top Gifts

How this environmentalism will translate into gift purchases remains to be seen. In the survey, clothing continued its four-year run as the second most popular gift category (gift cards have been #1 for four years); however, the popularity of clothing as a gift has fallen over the past several years, especially among younger groups. Toys, including games, dolls, and computer/video games and consoles, ranked third. CDs/DVDs/tapes and books continued their four-year decline.

The top specifically-named gifts that consumers intend to buy for friends and family included Apple's iPod, Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation. Other top gifts mentioned included recently released video games Halo 3, Guitar Hero III, Barbie and Transformers. Also in the top 10 this year: jewelry and watches, televisions, and experience gifts such as travel, spa services, and tickets for entertainment events. As previously announced, the survey found that gift cards/certificates continued to be the #1 gift that consumers plan to buy; the top venues for these gift cards are discount department stores (such as Wal-Mart and Target) and large home improvement stores (such as Home Depot and Lowes).

The Gifts That Keep on Giving

For those who don't receive gift cards this holiday season, the good news is that the majority of the gifts received will likely be returnable, if needed. The great majority (75 percent) of survey respondents said they prefer to shop at stores that have hassle-free return policies. One-quarter (25 percent) of consumers said that last season they returned or exchanged gifts; they did so 2.4 times. In addition, almost one-quarter (22 percent) said they re-gifted last holiday season. Women were much more likely to do so than men, as were younger consumers. Those that re-gifted did so an average of 2.8 times.

"Hassle-free return policies can improve the customer experience, encourage sales and enhance customer loyalty," said Janiak. "Retailers can also look for ways to up-sell when customers return or exchange gifts."

Happy Holidays! Now Get Out of My Way!

Almost two-thirds of consumers (63 percent) say they enjoy the experience and spirit of the holidays; however, a similar amount (61 percent) say they avoid holiday shopping crowds -- an increase from the 56 percent that said this in 2006. Consumers said that over-commercialization, rude people/bad manners and crowded stores are the aspects of holiday shopping that they find most frustrating; surprisingly, younger age groups were most likely to cite these frustrations.

"These findings may help explain why American consumers continue to turn to the Internet in droves," said Janiak. Seven in 10 consumers (70 percent) said they would do part of their holiday shopping online, and one in five (19 percent) said they will shop primarily or entirely online this holiday season. Almost half (48 percent) say they like the convenience of shopping with multi- channel retailers -- that is, those that have some combination of stores, Web sites and catalogs.

"Retailers who sell across multiple channels can increase their chances of success with this year's holiday shoppers," commented Janiak. "In our survey, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers told us they have made at least one multi-channel purchase over the past year, most frequently purchasing in the store after viewing the product on the retailer's Web site or catalog, or purchasing on the Web site after viewing in the retailer's store. Further, younger generations' affinity for the Internet and dislike of crowded stores tells us that online and multi-channel shopping will be an increasing trend. To be most successful, retailers must provide an exceptional customer experience in every channel, ensuring that these shopping experiences are not only seamless, but also as convenient, pleasant and as easy as possible."