November 15, 2013, 3:58 PM

From meal to deal

140 million U.S. consumers will shop over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

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The weather may be cooling but the holiday deals will be hot on Turkey Day. And that lure of nabbing steep discounts will drive shoppers both to stores and to the web to start ticking off items on their holiday gift lists after they’ve polished their plates on Nov. 28, according to research revealed today by the National Retail Federation trade association.

As many as 140 U.S. million consumers plan to shop over the long holiday weekend that begins on Thanksgiving and extends through Sunday, Dec. 1. For the first time, NRF asked consumers in its survey if they plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day. Of those who plan to shop that weekend, nearly one-quarter (23.6%), or about 33 million, plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day.

The NRF 2013 holiday spending survey, conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics, polled 6,201 consumers from November 1-7, 2013 about their holiday shopping plans to come up with its nationwide estimates.

“Though many people have already started to check off items from their holiday shopping lists, we fully expect to see many more come out on Thanksgiving Day and throughout the weekend to to take advantage of unbeatable deals,” says NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay. “As the official kick-off to the holiday season, retailers are prepared to pull out all the stops for their online and in-store shoppers, including offering sweepstakes with cash prizes, free gifts with purchase and opportunities to score top gift items before everyone else.”  

With a significantly shorter shopping season compared to last year, retailers won’t wait to offer big promotions and discounts, research suggests. This year, there are only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, compared with 32 days in 2012. Consumers also have four—not five—full weekends in that window period to complete their holiday shopping. As a result, more than half of retailers (51.1%) are planning to start their Thanksgiving weekend online promotions at least five days before Thanksgiving weekend, according to Shop.org’s eHoliday survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. That survey polled 44 large and small online retailers in September, many of which have been in business for at least 10 years. Recognizing the growing trend among consumers to shop online on Thanksgiving Day, 53.5% say they will offer promotions specifically for that day, according to Shop.org, the e-commerce arm of NRF.

Over the course of the long holiday weekend, retailers will tout a variety of offers, including special e-mail campaigns (44.2%) one-day sales (41.9%), free gift with purchase promotions (23.3%), free standard shipping on all purchases (20.9%) and discounted shipping (20.9%).

According to NRF consumer survey, Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving, is the day most consumers plan to shop. 69.3% of shoppers plan to shop on Black Friday, equating to about approximately 97 million shoppers nationwide. Additionally 43.6% will shop on Saturday (61 million) and 24.2% will shop on Sunday (34 million). And, of those who plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day this year, nearly seven in 10 (69.2%) say they shopped online and in stores on Thanksgiving in 2012.

To ensure they don’t miss a hot deal, consumers will most frequently go old school, turning to the advertising circular. 49.1% of shoppers plan to scour newspapers for information about upcoming sales events, 33.5% will look for promotional e-mails from retailers, 27.0% will follow retailers’ web sites and 21.9% will scour coupon sites to look for deals.

“Savvy shoppers know that the biggest shopping weekend of the year means even bigger savings, and those with specific gifts to buy will definitely be out and about or online over the holiday weekend,” says Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director for Prosper Insights & Analytics. “Though most will adhere to a very strict budget and will make thoughtful decisions about the gifts they purchase, it’s evident that Americans are in the holiday spirit, despite their cautious approach to spending.”

One way to entice a large segment of shoppers to spend beyond than their budgets is to offer an incentive such as a special gift with purchase or discount, according to a separate survey from advertising firm Adroit Digital.  In its October survey of moms, 90% say they would be somewhat to very likely to spend more than they had planned if offered a special incentive from one of their favorite online retailers this holiday season.

Moms are a key market for retailers over the holidays as 71% of mothers in the poll say they will be responsible for at least 75% of holiday gift buying for their households this year, At least 60% of that shopping will happen on the web, with 21% of respondents saying they plan to do at least half of their web shopping from a smartphone or tablet.

The survey of 1,000 mothers also finds:

  • 50% prefer to use a mobile web site versus a mobile app for holiday shopping from either a smartphone or a tablet.
  • 56% of moms will use their mobile device in a store to find deals or discounts.
  • 50% of those who said they will use a mobile device in a store will compare prices with an online retailer.

As the holidays kick in to high gear many of those stores consumers plan to visit over the next several weeks will be opening their doors on Thanksgiving. Macy’s Inc. will open its stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. It says it chose to open stores on Thanksgiving in response to consumer requests. Other retailers flipping on the lights on the holiday include Wal-Mart Stores Inc. which will open its locations at 6 p.m. and Office Depot and Belk, which will both open at 8 p.m. Macy’s is No. 12 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, Walmart.com is No. 4, Office Depot is No. 7 and Belk is No. 162.

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