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Holiday Shoppers Flocking Online (Graphic: Deluxe Corporation By ORC)

While American consumers continue to embrace the age-old traditions of the holidays – Christmas cards, yuletide carols and presents ‘round the tree – consumer shopping habits are showing a big shift. Internet sites are more popular than ever among shoppers, according to a new survey by Deluxe Corporation, which showed that more than three-quarters of Americans said they plan to shop for gifts online this holiday season.

The nationwide survey also revealed some positive news – and potential ways to attract more customers – for small businesses and boutique stores. For instance, shoppers in certain age groups and income levels still prefer to do their shopping in-person. And when it comes to sending holiday cards and wrapping presents, traditional methods still prevail.

Here are the major findings from the survey:

Internet shopping is most popular among younger and multicultural consumers. Survey respondents between 18 and 34 make nearly 90 percent of purchases online. The number is lower for older shoppers, though people 65 and older also shop online in large numbers (48 percent). Overall, African-Americans (85 percent) and Hispanics (84 percent) shop online more than white consumers (73 percent). While most online customers (60 percent) generally purchase gifts from major retailers, a primary reason may be the fact that two-thirds of shoppers said they don’t scroll beyond the first two pages of search results.

“It’s a major problem for a lot of small businesses,” said Jay Bean, founder of OrangeSoda, a search engine optimization and online marketing firm. “Competing with the Amazons of the world makes it critical for small businesses to be found quickly online. In order to show up in the first few pages of search results, it’s imperative that your site is optimized for the keywords that customers are using to find you.”

Printed holiday cards remain popular. Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents said they prefer to receive traditional cards versus an electronic one. “We all like getting a card in the mail – it makes us feel special,” said Dave Lessing, general manager of PsPrint, an online printing company. “A printed card makes a personal statement. It’s something that people can hold in their hands, reminding them of the sender. Many people collect their Christmas cards every year to keep a permanent reminder of that specific holiday season, and all the greetings they received from family and friends.”

Customers with higher incomes and no children are more likely to shop inside small stores and boutiques. Shoppers whose annual incomes top $100,000 said they visit stores in-person more often than those who earn less. Seventy-five percent of parents said they’re more likely to shop at major retailers, while just 60 percent of people without children preferred the big chains.

“Many shoppers prefer smaller businesses because they can cater to the needs of individuals in ways that major retailers simply cannot,” said Megan Kavanaugh, executive director of Bags & Bows, a retail packaging firm. Referring to the Deluxe survey results – which showed that 91 percent of gift-givers wrap their own presents – Kavanaugh explained, “By offering custom wrapping or providing attractive signature gift bags, small businesses can eliminate the wrapping hassle – and help the customer’s gift stand out.”

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