Web Shopping to Be a Hit This Holiday

NEW YORK  — A growing number of consumers are planning to hit the Web rather than the road this holiday season, according to a pair of surveys released Monday.

A record 71 percent of consumers will do at least some of their holiday shopping on the Internet, up from 66 percent in 2004, according to Deloitte.

The consultancy also said apparel was the second-most-popular gift-giving category, although the popularity of leaving fashions under the Christmas tree has waned over the past several years. Gift cards are the No. 1 gift category, with Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target the top venues for these cards.

Separately, an Accenture survey found that 69 percent of shoppers would cut gas expenditures by making fewer trips to stores, doing more shopping online and visiting areas with more stores this holiday season.

Accenture also found that while 46 percent of shoppers usually brave the crowds on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, only 42 percent are likely to do so this year. Thirty-eight percent of consumers plan to shop late in the season to take advantage of discounts.

Chris Donnelly, partner in Accenture’s retail practice, said the migration to online shopping would continue, even as gas prices fall, because shoppers are looking for deals and finding them online, with added benefits such as free shipping.

“People seem much more committed to staying on budget this year than they have in the past,” Donnelly said. “It’s going to be an interesting game of chicken potentially between the consumers and the retailers. A consumer might go out this year and spend their entire budget pre-Thanksgiving on some very good sales they see. If people really do stay true to their budget, there’s going to be a lot of competition to get those first sales.”

Even with more cyber sales and those of the more conventional type, this holiday season is slated to be one of the worst in recent history for retailers, who have begun marking down goods particularly earlier this year.

Retail shares fell Monday, giving back nearly all of Friday’s gains, as investors tried to gauge exactly how stores will fare over the next couple months. The Standard & Poor’s Retail Index slid 2 percent, or 5.58 points, to 268.00.

Stocks overall rose Monday morning on news of China’s $586 billion stimulus plan, but ended down as investor jitters intensified after the U.S. said it would pump an additional $40 billion into insurer American International Group. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 0.8 percent, or 73.27 points for the day to 8,870.54.

Department stores with declining stock values included J.C. Penney Co., down 10.7 percent to $20.01; Nordstrom Inc., 9.4 percent to $14.04; Macy’s Inc., 9.3 percent to $9.94; Dillard’s Inc., 7.6 percent to $4.27, and Saks Inc., 5.5 percent to $4.67.

Of course, the online move by shoppers shouldn’t be a problem for retailers with vibrant Internet presences, but stores are finding that they need to take the same care of their customers in the virtual world as they do in their stores.

“Consumers want a seamless multichannel retail experience,” Stacy Janiak, Deloitte’s U.S. retail leader, said. “They want the option of touching and feeling a product in the store and then being able to order it at their convenience, and they don’t want to be told that a product purchased online can’t be returned to a local store.”

Seventy percent of shoppers are also consulting the Web before hitting the stores, according to Deloitte’s survey.

Cyberspace was the second most popular holiday shopping destination this year, ranking behind discount department stores, Deloitte said. Twenty-one percent of consumers plan to shop primarily or entirely online this holiday season, up from 19 cent a year ago, the consultancy said.

Research by both Deloitte and Accenture found many shoppers to be more cautious and planning to cut back on their holiday budgets.

Accenture said 40 percent of the 537 consumers it surveyed in mid-October would spend less on the holidays. Deloitte found that 59 percent of the 13,276 shoppers it polled in late September and early October planned to reduce their spending. The primary reasons in both cases were higher food and energy prices.

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