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Accenture forecasts ‘careful’ and ‘controlled’ holiday spending

New York City -- An overwhelming majority (72%) of U.S. consumers expect their holiday spending to be “careful” or “controlled” in 2011, according to Accenture’s annual consumer holiday shopping study. Discounts, sales and prices are still top of mind this holiday, with 40% of consumers saying an item being on sale is the single most important factor in their decision to purchase.

According to the Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey, 88% of shoppers intend to spend the same or less than last year, and 71% of respondents earning more than $100,000 expect to spend over $500 on gifts this holiday season, indicating that high-income shoppers may provide a boost to retailers this season.

“Precision shoppers’ will dominate,” said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. “They will be very targeted about where and what they buy, and will be more inclined to shop around for the best value. Stores should focus on providing an experience and services that create a sense of extra value in the mind of the shopper. The research data, and our conversations with clients, leads us to expect a boost from high income shoppers who are planning to treat themselves and their families.”

While discount stores still remain the top holiday shopping destination, their dominant position is beginning to fade, according to the survey. Seventy-three percent of respondents say that they will shop at a discount retailer this year, down from 81% last year and 85% in 2009.

“The drop in respondents shopping at discount retailers is surprising; however, it does illustrate how other retailers have stepped up to the challenge over the last couple of holiday seasons,” said Hoffman. “In particular, the high-performing department stores have retained a keen focus on promotions that are carefully targeted to hit their customers’ value buttons.”

The importance of “Black Friday” also continued to slide downwards. Forty-four of consumers say that they are likely to shop on Black Friday, down from 47% in 2010, and 52% in 2009.

Although, the survey findings on total holiday spend suggest an increase in the number of consumers spending more than $750 in total (19% versus 14% in 2010), and a larger proportion of respondents spending more this season will be raising their level of spending by $500 or more compared with last year (16% versus 10% in 2010).

Of the shoppers who say they will spend less this holiday, 43% claim it is because they have less discretionary income to spend this year, 30% have less savings, and 37% have seen a rise in living expenses.

The research showed no significant change in the number of consumers shopping online (66% versus 69% in 2010). Interestingly, the number of shoppers expecting to buy more than half of their holiday gifts online rose significantly to 59% from 41% in 2010.

Free shipping (74%) and finding better discounts (60%) are still the biggest incentives to spending online; 47% simply wanted to avoid the crowds.

In other key findings:

  • While shoppers will be looking for a ‘sale’ sign, they will not be expecting the ‘doorbuster’-sized deals seen in 2008; 60% will seek a discount between 20%-49% (62% in 2010), and fewer (21% versus 25% in 2010) will look for a discount of more than 50%.
  • Apparel (54%), toys (36%) and gift cards (57%) will be at the top of holiday shopping lists this year. The survey also indicated an upwards shift in the value of gift cards purchased this year; 12% indicated that they would spend more than $75 on each gift card (6% in 2010).
  • Gadgets, such as smartphones, tablet computers or MP3 players, will also be strong with 36% of respondents looking to buy one or more of these items.
  • Fifty-two percent shoppers will be leaving their holiday shopping until after Black Friday (versus 41% in 2010), and one third (33%) will leave the bulk of their purchases until December. The expectation of better discounts being available is the lure for 57% of consumers shopping late in the season; 35% say they are leaving themselves more time to save.

The best time to secure bargains are seen as the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping events (37%) and the week leading up to Christmas (29%).

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