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Shoppers Spend Online, but Wait for In-Store Deals

The all-important holiday shopping season is well underway and, so far, online retailers are seeing an improvement compared with last year, but stores are having trouble luring in consumers with early deals, surveys showed Wednesday.

Shoppers stroll around at the newly decorated Christmas floor at KADEWE department store in Berlin, Germany.
Getty Images
Shoppers stroll around at the newly decorated Christmas floor at KADEWE department store in Berlin, Germany.

Online shoppers have spent nearly $21 billion during the first 43 days of the holiday season, a 4-percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to comScore.

The week ended Dec. 13 ranked as the biggest online spending week on record, with sales reaching $4.74 billion, according to comScore. The previous high of $4.70 billion was set during the week ended Dec. 16, 2007.

But the amount of holiday shopping consumers have done is at a five-year low, according to a National Retail Federation survey released Wednesday.

Consumer Nation Holiday Central Edition
Consumer Nation Holiday Central Edition

Consumers on average had completed 46.7 percent of their holiday shopping by the second week of December, according to the NRF. That is down from the 47.1 percent completed by this time last year and marks the lowest percentage completed since 2004, when shoppers on average completed 46.3 percent of their purchases by the same point in time.

"All season long, we've heard that consumers are continuing to wait until they think that they'll get the best deal possible," said NRF Spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. "Some people are just hesitant to spend their money on something when they might get a better deal closer to the holiday."

Retailers have planned conservatively for this holiday season, expecting consumer demand to remain muted in the face of double-digit unemployment. They have stocked less inventory, hoping to avoid the drastic price cuts that undermined their profits a year ago and are emphasizing their low prices.

Retail executives have also tried to warn shoppers they could lose out on the opportunity to buy key gifts if they waited too long.

But the holiday shopping season has gotten off to a slow start. Retailers from Macy's to Costco Wholesale reported November sales that missed Wall Street expectations as consumers focused on buying only the biggest bargains over the U.S. Thanksgiving shopping weekend.

According to the NRF survey, nearly 42 million people, or 19.1 percent of shoppers, had not even started their shopping as of late last week, while 8.6 percent of shoppers have completely finished.

New Discounts for Super Saturday

Retailers are now gearing up for "Super Saturday," — the Saturday before Christmas, which lands on Dec. 19 this year.

Super Saturday often is a more important day for retailers than "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, and retailers are preparing new price cuts and promotions to lure procrastinating shoppers.

This weekend, Wal-Mart Stores will begin selling certain toys for $8 each, including Mattel Barbie Fashionista Dolls and a Hasbro Nerf-n-Force Sword. Throughout the holiday season, Walmart had been emphasizing its offering of $10 toys.

In a bid to win shoppers seeking to get their hands on Zhu Zhu toy hamsters—one of the hottest toys of the holiday season — Walmart is flying hundreds of thousands of the robotic hamsters to stores across the country. The new supply of Zhu Zhu toys will go on sale in its stores starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Wednesday, while supplies last.

"Retailers know the final lap counts the most and are planning to emphasize promotions and discounts to bring in last-minute shoppers," said NRF President Tracy Mullin in a
statement.

The NRF survey also found that 11.9 percent of shoppers said they would buy their last gift on Dec. 24, while 35 percent said they planned to finish their list by Dec. 19.

The NRF still expects overall holiday sales this year to fall 1 percent.

The survey polled 9,929 consumers and was conducted for NRF by BIGresearch Dec. 1 through Dec. 9. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent.

- Reuters contributed to this report.

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