Holiday Shopping Season to Start Early But Discounts May Disappoint, Accenture Study Finds

NEW YORK; Oct. 21, 2009 – The Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey released today finds that, although consumers intend to shop early this holiday season, a problem may be in store for retailers as shoppers fail to find the discounts that they expect.

“Holiday shopping in 2008 was defined by the huge discounts that were available – and available very early in the holiday season. In 2009, however, retailers will be reticent to offer such generous incentives in the face of rising commodity prices,” said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice.

The survey of 526 U.S. consumers found that 69 percent of shoppers expect to do the bulk of their holiday shopping by December 7 (vs. 60 percent in 2008) and more shoppers will shop on “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – this year (52 percent vs. 42 percent in 2008). However, the vast majority of consumers (86 percent) will not be moved to buy without a discount of at least 20 percent, and a quarter of shoppers will be looking for an aggressive 50 percent discount before they open their wallets.

“We have seen a ‘shift to thrift’ across all income levels during this economic downturn and breaking that habit will be the greatest challenge for retailers this holiday season,” Hoffman said. “The winners this season will be the smart retailers that use the right customer data to offer the ‘value’ shoppers are looking for without destroying their margins.”

The survey did offer a glimmer of hope for retailers that can deliver the right deal to consumers. Despite a growing number of consumers who plan to set a holiday shopping budget (63 percent vs. 54 percent in 2008), the survey shows that more shoppers admit that they can be enticed into breaking their budgets (44 percent vs. 40 percent in 2008). The survey also showed that the majority of shoppers (62 percent) plan to spend more than $250 on holiday gifts this year.

Discount retailers will attract the most shoppers this season – 85 percent of survey respondents plan to shop at those stores. At the same time, 45 percent of the respondents said that they would be shopping at department stores and just 5 percent are planning to shop at luxury goods retailers.

Consumers have gone cold on “hot” gift items with only 27 percent of respondents having one on their shopping list this year. Gift cards, on the other hand, are gaining momentum as nearly four out of five respondents (79 percent) say will be buying gift cards this holiday season. Troubling for retailers, however, is the survey finding that 44 percent of gift card recipients will maximize the value of the card by purchasing discounted items and a quarter (25 percent) will use their gift cards to buy regular, staple products rather than treating themselves to something more expensive. This is the exact opposite of the trend of the previous two holiday shopping seasons.

Online shopping will continue to offer store stiff competition to more traditional retailers as nearly two-thirds of consumers (64 percent) intend to shop online for gifts this holiday season. And, 46 percent of these shoppers will spend more than half their gift dollars online. Free shipping is the biggest draw for 35 percent of online shoppers, followed closely by deeper discounts than stores are offering, according to 27 percent of respondents.

The survey also revealed that cutbacks were most likely to be made on gifts for friends (52 percent), extended family (51 percent) and spouses/partners (49 percent). Children (35 percent) and co-workers (35 percent) will be the groups least likely to receive less this year.

Among the survey’s other key findings:

U.S. Consumers Hungry for Big Discounts

• Over a third of shoppers (36 percent) claimed that they would search for and buy mostly or all discounted items

• 44 percent of respondents stated they would decide what to buy first and then search for a store that offers a discount

• 38 percent of consumers shopping late in the season do so because they expect better discounts to emerge

Consumers Seek to Control their Spending

• 70 percent will spend the same or more on holiday shopping this year compared to what they spent last year (vs. 60 percent in 2008)

• Two-thirds (66 percent) will use only or mostly cash for their holiday purchases this year

• 31 percent of consumers using credit cards for holiday purchases expect to delay payment beyond the first month

• Negative factors impacting holiday shopping spending this year include concerns about the economy (62 percent) and a job loss or fear of job loss (41 percent)

Gift Cards are a Must-Have, MP3 Players are not

• The gifts that top holiday shopping lists are gift cards (59 percent), apparel (56 percent) and toys (44 percent)

• Lower on the shopping list were video games consoles (30 percent), food and spirits (22 percent) and MP3 players (15 percent)

• Three-quarters of consumers (76 percent) will spend the same for a gift card as they would a gift for someone

• 71 percent of gift card recipients plan to spend their gift card within three months or less


Accenture conducted an online survey using a representative sample of 526 U.S. Consumers in September 2009.

About Accenture

Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company. Combining unparalleled experience, comprehensive capabilities across all industries and business functions, and extensive research on the world’s most successful companies, Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. With approximately 177,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries, the company generated net revenues of US$21.58 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2009. Its home page is

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Ben Payne
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Nancy Goldstein

For Accenture

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