SAN FRANCISCO — A new survey conducted this past weekend by Visa Inc. shows that 77% of consumers still need to buy holiday gifts this week. These last-minute shoppers will spend an average of $278 in the final days leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah.
Procrastination is running rampant this year, with 13% of consumers planning to purchase all of their gifts in this final week. The survey data also shows that 8% of shoppers will purchase three quarters of their gifts this week, while 16% will purchase half of the gifts on their list this week. And 51% of consumers will be purchasing a quarter of their gifts this week.
"With this many Americans still desperate to buy gifts, we are officially in the red zone for 'panic shopping'," said Jason Alderman, Visa's senior director of global financial education. "When shoppers panic, they throw money at the problem and often overspend to get a gift – any gift – in time for the holidays."
With six days until Christmas, the U.S. holiday shopping season is better than expected, with discounts deep enough to bring in shoppers who are searching for bargains but not showing the desperation seen in the recession.
Department stores like Macy's Inc are shaping up to be among the big winners, while apparel retailers are being hurt as mild weather limits demand for winter clothes.
"Some of the women's retailers that were doing well earlier in the year are getting hurt this holiday by the resurgence of the department store," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm.
Customer Growth Partners, which has been one of the most bullish forecasters of sales heading into the holiday season, estimated that U.S. retailer sales on Saturday were $26 billion, just shy of the $27 billion spent on "Black Friday," the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally kicks off the holiday shopping season.
Johnson was one of the most bullish forecasters coming into the holiday season. Now others are joining suit.
ShopperTrak, which monitors traffic at shopping malls, now expects sales in November and December to rise 3.7 percent, up from its September forecast of 3%.
Last week, the National Retail Federation raised its forecast, calling for holiday sales to rise 3.8%. In October, it forecast a gain of 2.8%.
To be sure, that NRF forecast is still less than the 5.2% increase reported for 2010. Unemployment was still 8.6% in November and lower-income shoppers have been making use of such plans as layaway to paying for holiday items.
So many analysts said sales are not exceptionally strong or exceptionally weak.
"There's more that's normal here than people want to let on," Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold said.
ShopperTrak cofounder Bill Martin said that discounts were more in the 30 percent to 40% range, instead of the 50% to 60% seen last year.
On Saturday, he said it was hard to find parking spaces at the malls he visited and he saw lots of people with packages. In other words, it was a typical weekend before Christmas.
"It's been a typical shopping pattern," he said.
Overall, traffic to stores may be off a couple of percentage points. But that's because more people are shopping on line, he said.
IBM Benchmark, which tracks transactions on the websites of hundreds of the top retailers, said on Monday it now expects online sales to rise 9.5% to 10% in December from a year ago.
Trutina Financial chief investment officer Patty Edwards said what she saw at Target this weekend was stocked shelves and normal discounts.
"There weren't any specific markdowns that were overly compelling, but conversely, there didn't seem to be any shortages of items at all," Edwards said.