Holiday procrastinators: 41 million haven't started

The typical shopper has finished less than half of their holiday buying, according to a new survey.

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By Julianne Pepitone, contributing writer

41 million people have not even begun their holiday shopping. The big procrastinators: Men and 35-44 year-olds.
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NEW YORK ( -- With just over a week to go until Christmas, consumers have completed less than half of their holiday shopping - and millions have not even started yet, according to a report released Tuesday.

According to the National Retail Foundation's "Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions" survey, holiday shoppers said they had finished 47% of their gift shopping by the second week of December. That represents a significant drop from the 53% of gift purchases completed at the same time last year.

Only 8% of respondents said their shopping is complete, and more than 41 million people have not even begun their holiday shopping.

The wave of reluctant shoppers comes as retail industry experts say recession and mounting job losses cause households to cut back on gift-shopping this year.

"The consumers have the upper hand this year," said Pam Goodfellow, senior analyst at BIGresearch, which conducted the survey for the retail group. "They're becoming better shoppers. Everyone is holding out, expecting great last-minute deals."

Another factor: This year's holiday shopping season -- which begins on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and extends to Christmas -- is five days shorter than it was last year.

Black Friday sales were better than expected this year, and by the end of that weekend first consumers had completed more of their holiday shopping than they had by the end of the same weekend last year.

But now, with a little more than a week before Christmas, shopping has slowed again and slipped behind 2007 levels.

"Since it's all about budget shopping this year, consumers might not be seeing prices that fit their budgets," Goodfellow said. "And they're sticking to those budgets."

Hitting the discount shops

As more price-conscious consumers trade down in their gift purchases, the survey showed that discount stores are expected to be the most-shopped retail outlets over the next few days.

The NRF report said 43% of shoppers said they plan to visit a discounter while 43% said they would shop at a department stores. However, another 40% (versus 35% last year) of people polled for the survey said they would skip stores entirely and hit the Internet for their holiday shopping.

Goodfellow said she expected that retailers will continue to lower prices despite already deep discounts.

"I think we'll see them talking about those two or three days before Christmas, and even Dec. 26," Goodfellow said. "People will be buying more gifts, but they won't be spending that much more money."

The survey indicated that most shoppers were buying clothes, followed by books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games, toys and electronics.

The number of people expected to buy gift cards, which have been the fastest growing category over the holiday shopping months of November and December, is expected to slip to 24% from 30% this time last year.

One reason for the decline in popularity of gift cards is the ongoing weakness in retail sales which has forced many leading national chains such as Circuit City (CCTYQ) and KB Toys into bankruptcy this year. The concern for consumers is whether a retailer that they buy a gift card from this year might still be around in 2009.

Using less plastic

Given the tightness in the credit markets, many more consumers say they are opting to make their gift purchases using cash this year versus credit.

The report said 66.2% of shoppers have primarily used cash, debit cards, or checks so far, up marginally from 64.5% last year.

"Everybody's more concerned about prices this year," Goodfellow said. "They're holding off and holding out, but nobody is going to cancel Christmas."

BIGresearch polled 8,860 consumers for the NRF survey, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 1%.  To top of page

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