Holiday Shoppers Slower to Buy

NEW YORK — Whether it’s the shorter shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas or the economy weighing heavy on their minds, people have done less shopping than last year — and they’re buying fewer gift cards than last year, too.

According to a survey released Tuesday by the National Retail Federation and BigResearch, the average customer surveyed had completed 47.1 percent of their holiday shopping by the second week of December, a 10 percent drop from the 52.6 percent average from 2007. Gift card sales are down as well, with only 24.3 percent of shoppers picking them up by the second week of the month, versus 30.2 percent who had purchased them last year.

The survey also found that 41 million shoppers hadn’t made any purchases at all, with only 8 percent of those surveyed saying they were finished.

“Procrastinators are in good company this year because a shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas means the holidays have snuck up on many of us,” NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement. “Retailers will try to manage the rush of last-minute shoppers with expanded hours, extra employees to stock shelves and a lot of sales and promotions.”

The survey predicts that discount stores and department stores will see the most traffic in the days leading up to Christmas, with 43 percent and 42.5 percent of shoppers, respectively, planning to visit them before the holiday. In addition, 40.2 percent of shoppers surveyed said they’d do the remainder of their purchasing online — up from 34.9 percent last year.

And cash is still king: 66.2 percent of shoppers are primarily using cash, debit cards or checks for their holiday shopping, up from 64.5 percent a year ago.

“Most Americans have put themselves on a budget this holiday season and are sticking to it,” Phil Rist, EVP of strategic initiatives for BigResearch, said in the release. “Retailers are finding that consumers who pay with cash or a debit card may be less likely to make impulse purchases, but recognize that these shoppers are also trying to put themselves in a better financial situation to spend in the future.”

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