Fewer Holiday Shopping Days, More Procrastinators

The average person completed 47.1 percent of their holiday shopping by the second week of December, about 10 percent less than the 52.6 percent average completed by this time last year, according to a National Retail Federation survey.

The “2008 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey,” conducted by BIGresearch, also found that over 41 million people have not started holiday shopping, with the biggest procrastinators being men (20.7% haven’t started) and 35-44 year-olds (20.9%). Only eight percent of shoppers say they have completely finished their shopping.

NRF credits this trend to the fact that there are five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, compared to the prior year.

“Procrastinators are in good company this year because a shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year means that the holidays have snuck up on many of us,” said Tracy Mullin NRF president and chief executive officer. “Retailers will try to manage the rush of last-minute shoppers with expanded hours, extra employees to stock shelves, and a lot of sales and promotions.”

While shoppers will be visiting a variety of retailers over the next 10 days, some categories will be busier than others, according to the survey. Discount stores (43%) and department stores (42.5%) will be the top spots for shopping, with about one-third (31.8%) planning to visit specialty stores. A large majority of last-minute shoppers are planning to skip the crowds and visit the Web, with 40.2 percent of people planning to shop online for the remainder of their holiday shopping, up substantially from 34.9 percent a year ago.

More than 66 percent of shoppers have primarily used cash, debit cards, or checks to pay for holiday purchases, up from 64.5 percent last year, according to the survey.

“Most Americans have put themselves on a budget this holiday season and are sticking to it,” said Phil Rist, BIGresearch executive vice president, Strategic Initiatives. “Retailers are finding that consumers who pay with cash or a debit card may be less likely to make impulse purchases, but recognize that these shoppers are also trying to put themselves in a better financial situation to spend in the future.”

Practical gifts reign this holiday season, with clothing being the most popular gift purchased (44.8%). Additionally, shoppers have been buying books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games (40.8%); toys (33.1%); and electronics (24.5%).

As expected, fewer people have purchased gift cards this year compared to a year ago. Though gift cards are the most requested gift for the holidays, 24.3 percent of shoppers have purchased gift cards this holiday season, compared with 30.2 percent who had done so by this time last year.