ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — With Thanksgiving just over a week away, holiday shoppers are already plotting their gift buying strategies. It’s estimated that Twin Cities shoppers will spend about $1.4 billion on holiday gifts this season.

That’s down slightly from 2014, according to the annual University of St. Thomas Holiday Spending Survey released on Tuesday.

It’s already playing out in regional retail malls where the holiday music is playing and shoppers are strolling about.

“I go and find that perfect gift for somebody, and I have to get it and whether I’m on a budget or not,” shopper Erika Blank said. “If it puts a smile on my loved one’s face, that’s what really matters.”

Her intentions are mirrored by many, and it’s borne out by the UST survey of 307 metropolitan households.

Households quizzed in the 13 county metro area say they’ll spend about the same as last year, roughly $850 compared to the $868 reported in 2014. That difference is well within the survey’s margin of error.

“It’s still the second strongest number we’ve seen, so we expect things to continue along,” said UST marketing professor David Brennan.

Shoppers will play it safe this season. They indicate their top purchases will be gift certificates, cash and books. Computers, electronics, even video games have fallen far down the shopping list.

“There aren’t any new blockbuster games out there, so things have settled down this year,” Brennan said.

While shopping malls and conventional retailers continue to attract the most holiday spending, online shopping is nearly equal in preference.

That is helped along by the “brick and click shopper,” the person who peruses the stores but later buys online.

“Typically, I’ll go to the malls first to see if I can find it there, but if I can’t or have some specific idea I can’t find, I go online,” shopper Cody Baum said.

When the university’s survey first began quizzing holiday shoppers in 2002, internet shopping accounted for just 7 percent of all buying. Today, it comes in at 38.5 percent of all purchases.

That is virtually tied with retail malls as the destination of choice, which registered 39.1 percent of respondent’s intended place of purchase.

“So store-based retailers are really beginning to make inroads into that digital world,” Brennan said.

When asked where they plan to shop, Mall of America and Rosedale remain the top two destinations of choice for families in the survey.

“So when we start looking at it, things are good but they could be better,” Brennan said.

He also pointed out the declining importance of Black Friday. He said that as holiday buying promotions begin earlier, we can expect to see more transparency between brick and mortar and digital shopping.

Bill Hudson