2020 Holiday Shopping Insights

Local Insights: 2020 Holiday Shopping

In January, we sent out our first ever Member Pulse Survey where we asked our valued SESLOC members about their shopping trends and habits over the recent holiday season. 885 responded, revealing five key takeaways into local spending. Read up to see how you can take action to tackle holiday debt or prepare for the 2021 season:

1. The Majority of Respondents Didn’t Use a Savings Plan for Holiday Purchases

While only 1 in 5 survey respondents developed a savings plan to cover their holiday purchases in 2020, 54% plan to develop a savings plan for holiday shopping in 2021. According to a national survey conducted by Nerd Wallet, one-third of shoppers are still paying off 2019 holiday credit card debt.¹

Take Action: Not sure how to start your holiday savings plan? While building savings can seem like a daunting task, you will start to see results with practice and patience. Here are a few free SESLOC resources to help you start planning and avoid holiday debt:

2. Respondents’ Overall Holiday Spend Was On Par With National Averages

The average amount spent by survey respondents in 2020 was $490 (not far off from the National Retail Federation’s prediction that the average U.S. consumer would spend $560 on holiday gifts last year²). Additionally, nearly 2 in 3 local shoppers spent less than $200 on their most expensive item.

Take Action: An important step for you holiday savings plan is to set your holiday budget. Then, split that amount into monthly “payments” into your savings account. Let’s say you plan to spend $490 on gifts and want to start shopping in November. If you save $49 each month between January and October, you’ll be well prepared.

3. More Respondents Used Credit Cards Than Debit Cards

Nearly 3 in 4 respondents used a credit card for some of their purchases, while almost 1 in 2 used a debit card and/or cash. Average holiday spending did not differ by type of tender (credit card, debit card or cash).

Take Action: Do you prefer going cashless and contactless? Don’t forget to make the most out of your SESLOC Rewards points! As we look toward 2021, cardholders who register for SESLOC Rewards can earn points for every purchase made with a HomeFREE CheckingTM debit card or SESLOC Visa Signature© Rewards credit card this year. Points are redeemable for merchandise, gift cards, travel experiences and fuel at participating gas stations. For members with both accounts, debit and credit card reward points are automatically combined under one account to increase redemption power. Visit seslocrewards.org to register or redeem rewards.

4. Respondents’ Local Spend Was On Par With National Averages

Among the respondents who spent any money locally, the average percentage spent locally was 32%. Additionally, among the shoppers who spent any money locally, nearly 2 of 3 spent money in San Luis Obispo. This is roughly in line with national expectations, as a CNBC/Survey Monkey survey³ predicted that 30% of U.S. shoppers would patronize a small business on Small Business Saturday (typically the biggest day for local spending each year).

Take Action: Interested in supporting more local businesses? Check out the following local shopping guides:

5. The Pandemic Didn’t Slow Down Holiday Shopping

7 in 10 respondents intend to spend about the same amount in 2021 on the holidays as they did in 2020. Compared to 2019, as many respondents spent more in 2020 as those who spent less, which indicates a greater than anticipated holiday spending for the year. This is in line with the rest of the nation, as the National Retail Federation⁴ reported that U.S. holiday sales rose 8.3% in 2020 from a year earlier despite the economic challenges of the pandemic. That was the highest holiday growth rate in years — more than double 2019’s 4% gain.

Take Action: Do you anticipate spending more for the 2021 holiday season? Consider starting your “wish lists” early, so you can keep an eye out for sales and deals through the year to save money.

Thank you to everyone who responded — your input is valuable to us. Stay tuned as we will add more educational opportunities which help you build savings plans. Plus, we’ll continue to highlight the Central Coast businesses and organizations that make this place so special. Take a look at our SESLOC Spotlight series for worthy nonprofits.


The 10-question survey was conducted online between January 15, 2021 and January 27, 2021, and sent to SESLOC email subscribers.

¹ Nerd Wallet Survey: 2020 Holiday Shopping Report

² National Retail Federation Press Release: Consumers Prioritize Spending on Family, Friends Ahead of Holiday Season

³ CNBC/SurveyMonkey Poll: Small Business Saturday 2020

⁴ National Retail Federation Monthly Economic Review: February 2021

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