The biggest shopping weekend of the year is almost here and 70 percent of Americans — an estimated 166 million people — are planning to shop or considering shopping this weekend, according to a recent NerdWallet study conducted by The Harris Poll.

Although four in 10 consumers start shopping for the holidays by Nov. 1, many Americans consider Thanksgiving weekend the official “start” to the holiday shopping season.

Forecasting how much each consumer will spend this weekend – and on what – is a task managed annually by the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association, and Prosper Insights & Analytics, a global leader in consumer intent data. The results of their 2018 survey were released in late October.

“The holidays are just around the corner and consumers are ready to shop,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Confidence is near an all-time high, unemployment is the lowest we’ve seen in decades and take-home wages are up. All of that is reflected in consumers’ buying plans. Retailers expect strong demand this year, and are prepared with a wide array of merchandise while offering strong deals and promotions during the busiest and most competitive shopping season of the year.”


Gift cards top wish lists

On average, consumers plan to spend $1,007.24 during the holiday season this year on items such as decorations, candy and gifts as well as other purchases for themselves and their families. That’s up 4.1 percent from what consumers expected to spend when surveyed at the same time last year.

That breaks down to roughly $637.67 on gifts; $215.04 on other holiday purchases such as food, decorations, flowers and greeting cards and $154.53 on other non-gift purchases for themselves and their families that take advantage of deals and promotions throughout the season.

In the gift category, gift cards and certificates top the consumer wish list for the 12th consecutive year, with six in 10 people surveyed reporting they would like to receive them. Clothing and clothing accessories follow closely behind, with about half (53 percent) of respondents hoping to receive them.

Books and other media (37 percent) edged out consumer electronics and accessories (29 percent) again this year.

For shoppers, sales, selection and free shipping are the top factors in deciding where to shop.

Sales and discounts, cited by 71 percent, remained the largest factor in choosing a particular retailer. Sixty percent said quality and selection of merchandise was the next-largest factor. Forty-five percent cited a convenient location.

“Consumers will be scouring through retailers’ ads to make sure they are getting the best deal possible,” Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Although sales will remain an important factor, shoppers want good quality and want to be able to find what they’re looking for.”

The consumer survey comes on top of NRF’s annual holiday spending forecast, which takes into account a variety of economic factors to project overall spending rather than per-consumer spending. The forecast estimated that holiday retail sales in November and December will be up between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total between $717.45 billion and $720.89 billion.

The survey, which asked 7,313 adult consumers about their shopping plans, was conducted Oct. 1 to 11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.


Where to shop

Personal-finance website WalletHub recently released its report on 2018’s Best Stores for Black Friday.

WalletHub surveyed nearly 7,000 deals from 35 of the biggest U.S. retailers’ 2018 Black Friday ad scans to identify the stores offering the biggest discounts in various product categories.

The “Apparel & Accessories” category has the biggest share of discounted items, 23.28 percent of all offers, whereas the “Books, Movies and Music” category has the smallest at 0.82 percent.

Belk had the highest overall discount rate at 68.91 percent, whereas True Value has the lowest at 16.31 percent.

Overall, the average discount for Black Friday is 37 percent. Consumers should aim for this discount or higher to avoid Black-Friday traps, according to WalletHub.


What to buy

Technology website Digital Trends took a look at the best deals so far this season both online and in brick-and-mortar stores, singling out Walmart, Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Macy’s and Apple as the best of the best for price, selection and online shopping availability.

Unsurprisingly, the best deals listed by Digital Trends across all stores tended toward the bigger-ticket items, such as home electronics and small kitchen appliances.

Smart, large-screen, 4K or Super HD televisions from Samsung, LG and Vizio ranked high for overall discounts. The newest Apple iPad and AirPod headphones and Amazon Kindle tablets and e-readers, as well as the Amazon Echo, fared well from their respective suppliers.

Deals can also be found on computers and tablets, but vary by store, make and model.


For the kids

According Good Housekeeping Institute toy experts, it’s the year of the dinosaur. Dinosaurs in any form, L.O.L Surprise dolls and accessories, coding kits and all things LEGO are atop the best toys this Christmas. And, thanks to the release of “Fantastic Beasts 2,” a ton of new Harry Potter-inspired toys are hitting the market in time for Christmas.

One dinosaur on the top of the wish list is the furReal Munchin’ Rex, a baby T-Rex that eats, begs and hops and responds to being waved at, petted and fed.

The popular L.O.L Surprise! collectible dolls aren’t going anywhere this year. There’s a new Glam Glitter series doll; a top-secret “Bigger Surprise!” box jam-packed with more than 60 new dolls and accessories; and the Surprise! House, which includes an elevator, pool, spa and sandbox and comes with an exclusive family and more than 85 surprises tucked inside. The house also doubles as storage for every L.O.L. doll your child owns.

STEM toys that teach coding are popular this year, from the friendly Cozmo robot that lets kids interact, explore and play games and the Ozobot Bit Coding robot that teaches coding through coloring on a tablet to the littleBits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit, a STEM toy that comes with 18 projects, including advanced projects that allow kids to practice coding. And fans of the wizarding world can learn to code a wand that responds to their movements with Kano’s “Harry Potter” Coding Kit.

Pet toys are also going to be huge this holiday season, according to Good Housekeeping, and one of the biggest toys, already on back-order in September, will be the Little Live Scruff-A-Luv. The mystery rescue pet arrives as a sad ball of matted fur with only its eyes showing, but once a child bathes, dries and styles its hair, their new pet is revealed.

The wearable Pomsies Plush interactive toy is also atop the pet toy lists. The toy moves, sings and talks – telling a child when it feels tired, cold or hungry – and rewards its owner with light-up eyes, purring and other cute sounds. The more a child interacts with it, the more it does.