Are consumers wrapping up their holiday shopping?

December 13, 2012 04:37 PM

While total online sales grew sharply in the first half of the holiday season, jumping 14.4% year over year between Nov. 3 and Dec. 4, according to comScore, total retail sales in November increased just 4.4% year over year, the National Retail Federation reports today. The disparity in growth was particularly evident on Thanksgiving Day and the day that follows, often called Black Friday, when in-store sales actually decreased by 0.18% year over year, according to payment processor Chase Paymentech, while comScore reported online sales soaring 29.3%.

Both online and offline sales growth could taper off, given that consumers, benefiting from an early Thanksgiving that added two shopping days to the holiday calendar this year, are further ahead in buying gifts than they were at this time last year.

By now, the average U.S. consumer has finished 56.5% of her holiday shopping, up from 46.5% at this time last year, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation. The organization polled 8,333 U.S. consumers on Dec. 4-10. 11.3% of consumers in the survey say they are done with their holiday shopping.

Of the consumers surveyed who aren’t finished shopping, 45.5% say they will finalize their shopping online. 29.8% say they’ll be done by Dec. 18 and 10.2% say they will finish on Christmas Eve, the NRF reports.

That pre-holiday frenzy won’t necessarily lead to a day of rest. 8.2% of consumers say they will shop online on Christmas, nearly double the 4.9% who said the same in 2009, the NRF reports. Of those shoppers in the survey who own tablets, 61.8% say they will use the devices to browse products, compare prices and purchase items on Christmas through the following few days, the NRF report says. And more than half of smartphone owners in the survey—51.7%—say they’ll engage in mobile commerce too, using their phones to shop in the week and a half after Christmas.

Despite posting three consecutive billion-dollar spending days and five in excess of $950 million, web measurement firm comScore  Inc. also noticed a softening in e-commerce momentum last week as growth rates dipped to 9% after beginning the season in the mid-teens.

Still, there’s more shopping to be done, says Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF. “There’s no question that holiday shoppers wanted to make the most out of retailers’ promotions as early as they could, but, as personal schedules get even busier these days, we know there are plenty of people who haven’t even made a dent in their list yet,” Shay says. “As two of the most important weeks of the holiday season, retailers will do their best to pull in those final dollars with unique offerings and creative promotions.”

Indeed, there are still many shoppers making plans to take advantage of free shipping offers in the days ahead. In a separate survey of 2,542 U.S. online consumers conducted by comparison shopping site PriceGrabber, 59% of shoppers plan to take advantage of Free Shipping Day, on Monday, Dec. 17. No doubt some of them are planning to shop online to avoid crowded stores: another survey released today, this one by Consumer Reports magazine’s research center, finds that 58% of consumers list “crowds and long lines” among the things they dread most about the holiday season.

E-retailers are doing their best to attract shoppers as the season progresses. Apparel retailer Lands' End, for one, says it will offer expedited shipping in time for Christmas Eve on purchases made through Dec. 21, in order to accommodate last-minute shoppers. "Our customer service representatives, expedited shipping options, warehouse staff and gift wrapping services make Lands' End the perfect procrastination destination to fulfill last minute gift orders,” says Joan Conlin, vice president of customer care services at Lands' End.

Some shoppers will turn to Facebook for gift-giving ideas. 28% will use the social network to find gift inspiration, according to a recent poll of 2,000 U.S. consumers by Internet survey firm Toluna QuickSurveys. Just 3% of respondents say they will use Pinterest to do the same. Additionally, 22% say they will use their smartphones to compare prices online while in stores and 17% say they would pay with their phones if possible, the survey says.




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