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Retailers will have a tough time getting shoppers to pay full price

Shopper Maria Montoya of Eagle Rock, California looks for more bargains as she wheels her cart piled high with Christmas gifts through her local Target store
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

Shoppers are ready to spend this holiday, but it may be tougher getting them to pay full price than some retailers expect.

After unseasonably warm temperatures last year forced stores to run unplanned promotions, retailers and analysts alike have pointed to opportunities for them to beef up their profit margins this Christmas.

At the heart of that thesis is an expectation for cooler weather, and better controlled inventory levels. But new research from Accenture shows that no matter how well-oiled retailers' strategies may be, consumers are willing to wait them out for a deal.

In a survey of 1,500 shoppers, 42 percent said they rarely or never expect to pay full price for an item. Additionally, nearly three-quarters said they'd shop with a retailer they haven't visited in the last year if they receive an enticing promotion.

That frugality comes despite the fact that shoppers are feeling better about their finances, with a slew of industry forecasts predicting sales will increase 3 to 4 percent this holiday.

"The big thing that I'm watching and concerned about is this notion that everyone's shopping for a deal," Jill Standish, senior managing director of retail at Accenture, told CNBC.

Retailers always enter the holiday season with intentions to stock the correct amount of inventory so they can run effective promotions that don't eat away at their profits. This season in particular, companies were focused on ways to improve their top and bottom lines, Standish said. The problem is there are so many variables that can get in the way of those plans.

"The weather could turn, competition could shift, there could be an abundance of inventory in the wrong place," she said.

There are already signs that retailers are giving into consumers' thirst for deals. Research from the DynamicAction analytics firm found that the percent of North American orders using a promotion was up 65 percent in the quarter ended September, compared with the prior year.

It doesn't help that fall got off to a warm start, making it tougher for retailers to sell sweaters and boots, said Steve Barr, PwC's U.S. retail and consumer leader.

"You know darn well we're going to start seeing big 'for sale' signs because the fall inventory's got to sell through," he said.

Consumers, meanwhile, are spending a larger chunk of their budget on travel and dining out. But that's not all. As shoppers seek out unique merchandise and innovative store experiences, the major bricks-and-mortar chains will see added competition from small businesses, Deloitte's Rod Sides said last month.

"This group has been collectively taking share from large, traditional retailers to the tune of $200 billion in annual sales over the last five years," he said.

Despite challenges to the incumbent players, economists agree that as unemployment falls and gas prices stay lower, consumers are in healthier shape this holiday.

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