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    Bargain Hunters: Shopped Out or Waiting for Late Deals

    Self-gifting, gift-carding, Web browsing underscore trend toward convenience

    An army of bargain hunters were out in force Black Friday weekend, while others are quietly scoping out the landscape in hopes of snagging last-minute sales, according to the latest America's Research Group/UBS Christmas Forecast.

    The nationwide holiday retail survey found that holiday shoppers have fallen squarely into two camps – early finishers and late buyers – and both are driven by the prospect of unprecedented retail deals, or at least hopes of finding them. “American consumers are either at home wrapping their gifts or laying in the weeds ready to pounce on last-minute deals,” said ARG Chairman Britt Beemer. “There's virtually no in-between.”

    Indeed, the survey, conducted Dec. 2-4, found that with Christmas still several weeks away, fully 15.1 percent of consumers have already completed their holiday shopping, largely doing so the weekend after Thanksgiving, up from 11.5 percent at this time last year. Meanwhile, nearly six in 10 (58.8 percent, up from 47.2 percent in 2010), plan to wait for last-minute deals in the days just before Christmas. Specifically, an all-time high 41.1 percent said they're holding out to see “70% off” signs before they make their way into stores.

    Retailers may be happy to know that 27.3% percent of shoppers have spent beyond their budgets this year, up from 22.6 percent in 2010. Even so, with loss leaders driving so much traffic, ARG’s Beemer says that not everyone's bottom line will be a cause for celebration. Indeed, he notes that activity at the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is down slightly this season (67.4 percent of respondents have shopped there) from last year (68.5 percent).

    While bargains may be the force behind consumers’ moves this year, shoppers don’t seem as willing to break a sweat as in the past:

    - Consolidation is up. Only 8.4 percent of shoppers have scoured at least nine stores this year, down from 15.2 percent in 2010.
    - Online shopping has soared. The percentage shopping more online has nearly doubled since last year (25.1 percent vs. 13.4 percent).
    - Drastic for plastic. Gift-card purchases, which had been in a decline after 2006 (42.1 percent), are now at a five-year high (36.8 percent, up from 30.2 percent last year and 27.3 percent in 2009).
    - Mirror, mirror is more the mode. Finding the perfect present may be easier: As predicted by last month’s ARG/UBS Christmas Forecasts, one-third (33.3 percent) of shoppers have bought gifts for themselves, up from 30.6 percent in 2010.

    The ARG/UBS research consisted of 1,000 telephone interviews conducted Dec. 2-4 at ARG headquarters in Charleston, S/C.

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