CHARLESTON, S.C. — Shoppers who were out in full force on Black Friday may not walk retail aisles again until just before Christmas — when retailers are expected to heavily discount merchandise — according to the latest America's Research Group/UBS "Christmas Forecast."
The nationwide holiday retail survey found that holiday shoppers have fallen squarely into two camps — early finishers and late buyers — and both are driven by the prospect of unprecedented retail deals, or at least hopes of finding them. "American consumers are either at home wrapping their gifts or laying in the weeds ready to pounce on last-minute deals," stated ARG chairman Britt Beemer. "There's virtually no in-between."
The survey, conducted Dec. 2 to 4, found that with Christmas still several weeks away, fully 15.1% of consumers have already completed their holiday shopping, up from 11.5% at this time last year. Meanwhile, nearly 6-in-10 plan to wait for last-minute deals in the days just before Christmas — slightly less than half were willing to do that last year. Specifically, an all-time high of 41.1% said they're holding out to see "70% off" signs before they make their way into stores.
Retailers may be happy to know that 27.3% of shoppers have spent beyond their budgets this year, up from 22.6% in 2010. Even so, with loss leaders driving so much traffic, ARG's Beemer suggested that not everyone's bottom line will be a cause for celebration. He noted that activity at Wal-Mart is down slightly this season — 67.4% of respondents have shopped there as compared to 68.5% who reported shopping there last year.
Other findings from the survey included:
Consolidation is up. Only 8.4% of shoppers have scoured at least nine stores this year, down from 15.2% in 2010;
Online shopping has soared. The percentage shopping more online has nearly doubled since last year (25.1% vs. 13.4%);
Gift-card giving is up. Gift-card purchases, which had been in a decline after 2006 (42.1%), are now at a five-year high (36.8%, up from 30.2% last year and 27.3% in 2009); and
Self-gifting happening more often. One-third (33.3%) of shoppers have bought gifts for themselves, up from 30.6% in 2010.