Consumer Corner: Flirting with gifts

By MICHELLE GROENKE  |  Dec. 16, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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CHICAGO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- There is no shortage of holiday shoppers in U.S. stores but retailers say many consumers are just flirting with the merchandise under the glow of the holiday lights with no intention of taking it home.

The Harris Poll says "showrooming" -- the industry nickname for a new trend in which shoppers try out a product up close in a store but then choose to buy it online -- is on the rise.

An online survey of 2,249 adults last month suggests 43 percent of U.S. adults have showroomed.

Best Buy and WalMart are the stores most often targeted by showroomers, followed by Target, Home Depot, Lowes and Barnes & Noble.

Thirty percent of men said Best Buy was their top showrooming location, while 27 percent of women said they examined products at WalMart before buying online.

Not surprisingly, online retail giant Amazon is cashing in on the trend. The majority of showroomers said they generally made their online purchases at Amazon (57 percent). and Ebay were distant seconds at 5 percent each.

The survey found showroomers spent an average of $211.80 the last time they purchased a product online after examining it in a brick and mortar store.

Whether its online or in person, cash registers continue to ring up a happy tune for retailers this year. The National Retail Federation says holiday promotions are fostering a consumer "propensity to shop early and often."

The NRF's latest holiday survey, conducted by BIGinsight, found the average person has completed 56.5 percent of his/her shopping, up from the 46.5 percent this time last year and the highest percentage in the survey's 10-year history.

"Having made a list and checked it twice, holiday shoppers have been out in full force these last few weeks, leaving only a few stones unturned," NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said Thursday in a statement.

Holiday procrastinators take heart: You are not alone. A survey conducted on behalf of Lands' End finds 30 percent of this season's gift buyers had yet to make a single purchase as of early last week. Of those who have begun to tackle holiday shopping, 79 percent still have gifts to purchase and 51 percent say they have five gifts left on the shopping list. And, thanks to savvy marketers who've decided every Monday during the holiday deserves its own shopping designation, retailers such as Lands' End are offering extra incentives on Dec. 17 -- now known as National Free Shipping Day.

Despite the offer of free shipping, some people say they'll wait a little longer to hit the Internet and aren't likely to be at the local mall either. The Lands' End survey said 10 percent of respondents confessed they will be shopping for holiday gifts on Christmas Eve.

Fifty-nine percent of the last minute shoppers say they're "natural procrastinators" and a quarter of respondents said they enjoy the last minute shopping experience. The survey of 604 men and women was conducted by SurveyMonkey Dec. 7-10.

Some shoppers take procrastination to the extreme -- with 8.2 percent of shoppers in the NRF survey suggesting they plan to shop online on Christmas Day and 4.1 percent of shoppers admitting they will actually wait until the day after Christmas to do their holiday shopping.

"Budget-conscious consumers have taken advantage of retailers' deals all season long, even after a strong showing Thanksgiving weekend, and could even look to the days after Christmas to find treasures in the clearance bins or new spring items that arrive that week," BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow said.

The NRF survey of 8,333 consumers was conducted Dec. 4-10. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.0 percent.

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