Shoppers hold out for better bargains
Consumers prepared to wait 'till the last minute for better deals this holiday season; shoppers flock to Wal-Mart, eBay.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Discounts abound, but holiday shoppers are still searching for a better deal - and they're holding off on their gift buying until those deals come along.
Weekly chain store sales for the week ended Dec. 2 dipped 2.6 percent from the previous week, according to an index published by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and UBS Securities.
Sales, however, rose 3.1 percent from the year-ago period, according to the index, which is designed to reflect industry sales.
"Through this past Sunday, consumers shopped less and completed less of their total expected holiday spending than even last year," Michael Niemira, ICSC's chief economist, said.
The holiday shopping season kicked off the day after Thanksgiving - also called "Black Friday" - with shoppers on the prowl for deals on everything from hot electronics to jewelry.
But industry experts said more shoppers look like they're holding off to make their purchases, and with Christmas falling on a Monday this year, shoppers will have an extra day to pick up last-minute gifts.
About a third of shoppers polled this past weekend by market research firm America's Research Group said they're waiting until the day before Christmas to finish their shopping.
And an overwhelming number of those bargain seekers - nearly 82 percent - said they're looking for discounts to reach 50 percent.
Britt Beemer, a retail industry observer and founder of ARG, said the desire for discounts is the strongest he's seen in 20 years. "I've never seen such bargain-driven shoppers," he said in a statement.
Where shoppers are going
In search of better deals, shoppers are heading to discount retailers like Wal-Mart, which has been slashing prices on a range of holiday merchandise this year.
About 43 percent of the ARG survey's respondents said Wal-Mart (Charts) was their top shopping destination this weekend, while 28 percent said J.C. Penney (Charts) was the No. 1 store to hit on their list.
Besides hitting brick-and-mortar stores, shoppers have been rushing online.
According to ComScore Networks, so far this holiday season online retail spending has jumped 24 percent from the same period last year.
Consumers spent $11.7 billion on retail purchases, excluding travel, made on the Web between Nov. 1 and Dec. 1, the online traffic tracker said.
ComScore expects total online spending in the final two months of 2006 to hit $24.3 billion, up 24 percent from $19.6 billion in 2005.