Last week, my colleague Sucharita Mulpuru published Forrester’s annual US online holiday retail forecast. In her blog, she shared that Forrester expects this year’s holiday season to generate $78.7 billion in US online sales, a 15% increase on 2012's total. This optimism is largely due to ever-increasing numbers of consumers choosing the Web over physical stores as well as the rise in mobile commerce.

To better understand consumers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding shopping during the holiday season, my team conducted a qualitative research project last year with our ConsumerVoices market research online community, starting before Thanksgiving and ending the first week of January. We found that consumers are always on the hunt for holiday deals, not just during the holiday season. Most consumers have an idea of what they are willing to spend on holiday gifts, and while most stay within their budget, they will gladly spend the extra money if it comes down to staying on budget or giving the ideal gift.

Holiday shopping started with consumers purchasing several items on sale and buying for the most important recipients first: spouses and children. As the season progressed, consumers increased the frequency of their offline shopping as well as the number of gifts they purchased at full price. However, the average weekly spend in 2012 peaked on Black Friday and then slowly decreased until the week of Christmas.

But in the end, it’s not about the gifts; it’s about happiness. As one community member put it: “I love spending time with my family the most around Christmas. I love buying them presents that they want, cooking them their favorite foods, and just seeing them happy.” — Female, age 42