Poll: 13% Plan To Finish Shopping On Dec. 24

holiday shopping

Many Americans have put off shopping for gifts and are taking a pragmatic approach to the holidays, according to a Consumer Reports holiday shopping poll.

As of Dec. 6, 40% of adults said that they have yet to hit the stores for gifts. Only 12% said they have finished their holiday shopping and nearly one-third (30%) do not anticipate finishing until Dec. 23 or later. About 13% shoppers indicate they will not finish until Dec. 24.

On average, people say they will be spending $699 on holiday gifts, $41 less than last year. Over the past three holiday shopping seasons, the average amount shoppers plan to spend on gifts has declined steadily, according to the poll. In 2008, shoppers anticipated spending $740, on average, down from $763 in 2007.

"Consumers are spending a bit less, focusing on more practical gifts, and vowing to take on less debt and pay it off sooner," said Tod Marks, senior editor and shopping expert for Consumer Reports, in a statement.

Survey respondents said they were finding the best deals at mass merchandisers (41%) such as Walmart and Target, and online retailers (39%). These were followed by department stores (21%), discount stores (16%) such as TJ Maxx and Marshalls, outlet stores and malls (12%), and warehouse clubs (11%).

The survey also found that 68% of credit card users plan to pay off their holiday debt by the end of January. These intentions may seem ambitious, but in recent years adults have become more diligent in paying off their holiday debt, Marks says.

By the end of January 2009, 61% had paid off credit card debt incurred during the 2008 holiday season, compared to 53% in 2007. However, 27% did not pay off their 2008 holiday debt until March 2009 or later.

About three-quarters (76%) of shoppers use cash to pay for their holiday purchases, leading both debit cards (51%) and credit cards (48%) by a wide margin, according to the survey. Men (41%) are more likely than women (29%) to use cash most often. Since 2007, the amount that consumers charge on credit cards to pay for holiday purchases has steadily decreased. Shoppers who plan to use their credit cards told Consumer Reports that they intend to put less on them this year, charging $636 on average versus $682 in 2008 and $723 in 2007.

Despite the decrease in the amount spent, the number of gifts shoppers plan to buy has not changed. On average, shoppers plan to buy 15 gifts, which is about the same number as in previous years. Finding that perfect gift may be problematic for procrastinators, as a third (34%) of consumers who have started gift shopping have found an item they wanted was out of stock.

Nearly half (46%) of adults surveyed plan to shop in stores between Christmas and New Year's, with most being drawn into the stores to take advantage of post-holiday sales (81%), while 69% plan to shop for themselves.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a random-digit-dialing telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. In all, 1,014 interviews were completed among adults ages 18+. Interviews took place between Dec. 3 and 6. The margin of error is +/- 3.1% points at a 95% confidence level.

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