CHICAGO (Reuters) - More than a third of U.S. shoppers plan to spread their holiday gift buying to a wider circle of loved ones this year, a new survey said on Monday.
A total of 35.2 percent of people surveyed by America's Research Group said they were buying gifts for more people this holiday season than in 2009, while only 14.6 percent said they planned to buy for fewer people.
About half of those surveyed planned to buy for the same number this year as last year.
The cold snap over the weekend may have spurred people to shop for nieces, nephews and others who might not have initially been on the shopping list, said Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group.
"Because of it being so cold, a number of consumers bought some added winter apparel for relatives they weren't planning to buy for," Beemer said, citing the response to follow-up questions asked of shoppers who said they bought for more people.
The responses are the latest evidence that U.S. consumers are becoming more willing to shop after holding back for two years amid the recession and the credit crunch.
The response also may indicate that consumers -- who make up about 70 percent of the U.S. economy -- are becoming more optimistic as the holiday season progresses. When the season started, the number of shoppers who said they had planned to buy gifts for fewer people was higher, he said.
The telephone survey of 1,003 people was conducted on Saturday and Sunday, using questions asked by Reuters.
Among other findings, consumers said they still favored discounters, with 41.2 percent saying they did most of their holiday shopping at that sector. But that is down from a rate of 47 to 49 percent of respondents over the past two years, Beemer said.
With the economy showing at least some signs of improvement this year, shoppers have been shifting more of their holiday purchasing to department stores and other retailers.
Consumer sentiment in December rose to its highest level since June and was at its third-highest since the start of 2008, according to a Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey released last week.
(Reporting by Brad Dorfman, editing by Matthew Lewis)