November 8, 2011, 3:48 PM

Discounts could help online retailers woo holiday shoppers

Even so, Amex anticipates that consumers will increase spending by 17%.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

A new report suggests that e-retailers face a challenge this holiday season in persuading shoppers to spend more than did they last year.

An Ipsos Public Affairs telephone survey of 1,001 adults, conducted in September, found that 11% of respondents will spend more this holiday season than in 2010. 45% plan to spend less, and 42% plan to spend the same amount as in 2010. The rest were unsure. The Ipsos results offer a relatively broad prediction of shopping behavior on the coming weeks as it potentially includes all shoppers, not just those who enjoy regular Internet access.

Meanwhile, an American Express Co. online survey of 2,000 U.S. adults, conducted in October, found that consumers will increase holiday spending this year by 17%. Amex anticipates that U.S. consumers will spend, on average, $831 on gifts this season.

Amex also says that about 66% of consumers will craft a holiday budget this year, and that 48% of consumers expect to stick to those budgets. Such results suggest that online retailers will have to work hard to woo large number of consumers who feel less than prosperous as the economy continues to crawl toward recovery.

That would appear to benefit those e-retailers prepared to act aggressively on discounts, whether through online coupons, coupon codes or daily deals. “Consumers are savvier than ever, and they have memorized the holiday retail narrative,” says Pam Codispoti, executive vice president and general manager for consumer card services at American Express. “We’re continuing to see consumers employ a range of tactics to stay within budget and, at the same time, maximize their gift-giving potential.”

The American Express survey found that a third of consumers will research products and compare prices on the web before shopping; in all, the survey found that 50% of consumers will make web purchases this holiday season. Amex also says that 19% of consumers will use online offers distributed through such venues as Facebook and Groupon. The payment card network offered no comparative data from last year.

The Ipsos survey found that just under half of respondents, 48%, are more likely this year to look for online coupons or coupon codes before making holiday purchases. And when it comes to discounts, offline triumphs over the web, Ipsos found. 50% of respondents to its survey reported using coupons clipped from newspapers and magazine within the 30 days prior to the survey, a larger rate than for daily deal operators such as Groupon (27%) or online coupon codes  (25%). 

Amex, meanwhile, says that 51% of respondents plan to clip coupons or take advantage of promotions during the holiday shopping season, down from 58% last year; Amex gave no explanation for this seemingly odd dip.

Ipsos also found that 45% of survey respondents reported spending less than a hour researching the best prices for their intended holiday purchases. 38% spend between one and three hours, while 14% spend more than three hours. The rest were unsure.

Assuming equal availability of merchandise and deals, most shoppers would prefer to visit a bricks-and-mortar store rather than shop online, Ipsos says. 69% of respondents say that, all things being equal, they prefer face-to-face shopping inside stores, while 26% prefer online stores (the rest were unsure or had no preference.) But when e-retailers offer better deals than other merchants, 47% of respondents prefer online stores.

Age matters when it comes to shopping preferences, the Ipsos survey results suggest. “Over half of adults under 55, or 54%, would shop online if that’s where they could find better holiday deals,” Ipsos says in the report, “compared with just 35% of adults 55 and over.”

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