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Holding out to the holiday end

Survey estimates more than 33 million people haven't even started buying gifts; Toys 'R'Us gets fresh stock of PS3, Wii and T.M.X Elmo.

By Parija B. Kavilanz, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- With Christmas just four days away, the 2006 holiday shopping season is shaping up for a nail-biting finish after the latest industry survey released Monday showed millions of shoppers still haven't even started buying their gifts.

According to the 2006 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF), 23 million consumers, or 10.8 percent of shoppers, are estimated to have completely finished their holiday shopping.


But more troubling for retailers are the 33 million consumers, or 15.4 percent of shoppers, who admitted they haven't gotten cracking yet.

The trend to procrastinate doesn't bode well for merchants. The November-December shopping season fuels as much as 50 percent of sales and profits at many chains.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales during November-December will grow 5 percent to $457.4 billion, slower than last year's 6.1 percent increase

Also worrisome to merchants is that the average person has completed 53.1 percent of their shopping versus 54.6 percent at this time last year, the report said.

What are shoppers waiting for? Some experts said consumers are frustrated by their inability to find hot products like T.M.X. Elmo, Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PS3. In some instances, consumers say they're simply turned off by poor customer service or not enough discounting.

However, Wal-Mart and Toys"R"Us are among the retailers who said they had recently secured fresh inventory of these must-have products for the final week before Christmas.

Wal-Mart was selling 4,000 T.M.X. Elmo dolls on its Web Site every day last week.

Toys "R" Us said Monday that more than 65,000 T.M.X. Elmos would arrive in its stores across the country.

In addition to Elmo, the retailer said it is replenishing other hot items this week, including more than 6,000 Playstation 3 gaming consoles, 30,000 Xbox 360 gaming consoles, "thousands" of Wii systems and more than 40,000 GameBoy Advance systems

Moreover, the saving grace for retailers is the extra shopping weekend they get.

"With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, retailers have one more weekend to bring in those holiday procrastinators," NRF CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.

To that end, industry watchers expect this week could be huge for department stores like J.C. Penney (Charts) and Kohl's (Charts). The survey said almost half of shoppers surveyed stated they would head to a department store to finish their shopping, and one-third intend to shop on the Internet and at specialty stores.

But only 39 percent of last-minute shoppers will head to discounters like Wal-Mart (Charts) and Target (Charts) to finish their lists, a large drop from the 70.3 percent of consumers who planned to shop at discounters earlier this holiday season.

The survey was conducted from from Dec. 5 to 13 and polled 7,828 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent.

Online shopping sizzles

Meanwhile, online holiday shopping is booming. During the first 48 days of the season, total online retail spending, excluding travel-related purchases, reached $20.65 billion, up 25 percent from a year earlier, according to ComScore Networks.

On Monday, Dec. 11, consumers set a single-day record of $661 million for online spending. Two days later, that record was broken as consumers spent $667 million online.

As a result, the firm revised its online holiday sales forecast higher to $24.6 billion, or an increase of 55 percent over the same period last year. ComScore initially had expected holiday sales on the Internet to grow 24 percent to $24.3 billion.

"The strategy of luring holiday shopping procrastinators with extended shipping guarantees paid off handsomely for online retailers," Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore Networks, said in a statement.

"That we are seeing above-average growth rates this late in the holiday season is clear evidence that consumers have strong faith in the ability of online retailers to 'deliver the goods.'" he said.

--This is an update of the story that was originally published on Dec. 18.

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