The holidays are right around the corner and retailers big and small are already gearing up for what they hope will be a successful season, even if at the same time knowing that it will likely be a challenging one too.

When looking at holiday shopping, we typically look at sales of physical goods. Which makes sense given that historically, gift-giving has been an offline activity.

With digital goods growing in prominence, it's increasingly clear that holiday shopping is not limited to buying goods you can put under a tree.

Case in point: according to a new survey conducted by Elastic Path Software, some 27% of holiday shoppers plan to purchase digital goods this year, with 'digital goods' covering everything from e-books and games to apps and Facebook credits.

Those buying digital goods tend to be younger, university-educated and predominantly male.

It's a group that shouldn't be ignored. Of the more than 1,000 U.S. adults Elastic Path surveyed, those planning to buy digital goods have budgeted $440 on average for both physical and digital goods, an amount 40% higher than shoppers who aren't in the market for digital goods.

This obviously means that the tech-savvy shoppers who might buy digital subscriptions and virtual currency are important to retailers, particularly as Elastic Path sees anemic overall retail sales growth of just 2.5% in the U.S. this holiday season.

There is bad news for smaller retailers though: two companies, Apple and Amazon, will reap the vast majority of digital content sales.

When it comes to manufacturers, there may be more hope, particularly for those who are "transcend[ing] virtual and physical spaces" could benefit the most. As Elastic Path's Amanda Dhalla notes, "Mattel, Lego and Crayola, for example, have created ‘app-cessories’—physical toys that interact with Apple gadgets— to lure techno parents".

These types of products aren't new, of course, but with consumers increasingly valuing digital goods -- so much so that they're viable gifts -- now may be the time for companies to invest in the development of these 'hybrid' products.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 November, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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