Holiday retail sales are expected to be especially bright this season, thanks, in part, to some Americans getting a head start on shopping, a new survey sponsored by the National Retail Federation (NRF) found.
The survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, estimated retail spending in November and December (excluding auto, gas and restaurant sales) will increase by 3.6 percent to $655.8 billion, representing a projected growth rate above the 3.2 percent posted in 2015 and the 3.4 percent average recorded since recession recovery began in 2009.
More than 90 percent of consumers will buy food and candy this season, while 96 percent will buy gifts for family. Nearly 70 percent of consumers will buy gifts for friends, while 33 percent will buy gifts for coworkers. More than 40 percent of consumers will buy gifts for other people in their lives.
With all that gifting, shoppers are expected to drop major cash this season. On average, consumers will spend $104.57 on food and candy, $460.67 on gifts for family, $108.46 on gifts for friends and $54.75 on decorations.
Despite possible influence from external factors, spending is projected to remain strong, says Jack Kleinhenz, NRF chief economist. 
“Consumers have seen steady job and income gains throughout the year, resulting in continued confidence and the greater use of credit, which bodes well for more spending throughout the holiday season,” he says. “Increased geopolitical uncertainty, the presidential election outcome and unseasonably warm weather are the main issues at play with the greatest potential to shake consumer confidence and impact shopping patterns. However, the economic spending power of the consumer is resilient and it should never be underestimated.”
Resilient, indeed. More than half of consumers have begun holiday shopping — even before Thanksgiving turkeys hit American tables. The survey found 55.7 percent of shoppers have started crossing items off holiday lists, the second-highest level in the history of the survey.
Clothing and accessories are projected to be the most popular gifts this year, given by 61 percent of shoppers. More than 40 percent of shoppers will give books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games, while 31 percent will give food or candy. Three in 10 shoppers will give electronics.
Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend deals are expected to draw nearly 60 percent of shoppers — an estimated 137.4 million people — to stores, malls and online outlets. That’s up from 58.7 percent or 135.8 million people last year.
“With more promotions to come, shoppers will have ample opportunities this holiday season to seek out the perfect presents — either for themselves or for others,” says Prosper Principal Analyst Pam Goodfellow.