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Despite a gradually improving economy, consumers plan to spend less and save more this holiday season, according to Nielsen's annual holiday retail survey. Some 42% of consumers plan to spend less this year on holiday gifts than last year; only 4% say they will spend more.

Consumers also plan to spend a smaller percentage of their overall holiday budget online: 63% say they will do at least some holiday shopping online, down 10 percentage points from two years ago; 7% say they will not do any shopping online, compared with 1% in 2007 and 3% in 2008.

Among consumers who do plan to shop online, many expect to spend significantly less than last year: 31% say they will spend more than $300 online during the holidays, compared with 42% in 2008, and 22% say they will spend less than $100 online this year.

Consumers shop online primarily for convenience, the survey finds: The top reason consumers shop online is for the ability to shop whenever they want, followed by the ability to avoid holiday shopping crowds.

Eight in ten consumers say they visit retailers' sites prior to some shopping in physical stores. Among them, the top 3 reasons for doing so are the following:

  1. 55% compare prices at different stores before heading out to shop.
  2. 49% learn about sales and promotions available in physical stores.
  3.  40% look for coupons they can redeem in physical stores.

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