Holiday shopping is set for a historic shift

In a year that has already seen its share of firsts, here's another one -- or at least the prediction of another one. Consumers say they plan to spend more money online than in physical stores during the coming holiday shopping season, putting an exclamation point on trends in the retail sector over the past few years. That's according to a 5,000-person survey released Tuesday by Deloitte.

The consulting firm found consumers expect to spend 51 percent of their budgets online compared with 42 percent in physical stores. This is the first time respondents have indicated such a reversal of traditional shopping patterns. Last year they told Deloitte they planned to spend equal amounts shopping virtually and in person.  

Individuals' total holiday spending is expected to average $1,226, in line with last year, with $430 going toward gifts and $480 going toward events such as holiday entertaining and socializing.  

"The amount people are actually spending on gifts remains steady compared with prior surveys, but we've watched the mix of total holiday spending shift incrementally over the last five years," said Rod Sides, a Deloitte vice chairman and US retail, wholesale and distribution leader, in a statement. "It's the lure of shopping and the experience that is flourishing and likely to remain in high demand -- all which bodes well for retailers that have created an experience blending one-of-a-kind items, inspiration, uncomplicated navigation and frictionless transactions."

Nearly half of respondents said they plan to buy gift cards and clothing. Another 27 percent said they plan to buy "experiences" for their friends and relatives such as concert tickets, vacations and restaurant meals. 

Deloitte's new survey also found consumers feeling confident about their financial situations, with 81 percent saying their household finances were in the same or better shape than last year. That's up from 63 percent in 2012.  

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.