October 21, 2009, 12:00 AM

Shoppers will start early, look for big discounts, a new survey says

Accenture’s poll of 526 consumers found that while shoppers plan to complete their shopping earlier than last year, 86% said they won’t buy without a discount of 20% or more.

Last year’s desperate discounting in quest of sales may have primed the pump for a tough holiday season this year, according to the just released Accenture Holiday Shopping Survey.

The survey of 526 consumers found that while consumers are planning to complete their shopping earlier than last year, 86% said they won’t buy without a discount of 20% or more. And 25% said they will be looking for 50% discounts before they buy.

“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,” says Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. “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.”

The survey also reports that 64% of consumers intend to shop online for gifts this holiday season and 46% will spend more than half their gift dollars online. Free shipping is the biggest draw for 35%, followed by deeper discounts than stores are offering, at 27%.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • 36% of shoppers claim they will search for and buy mostly or all discounted items
  • 44% say they will decide what to buy first, then search for a store that offers a discount
  • 38% who will shop late in the season do so because they expect better discounts to emerge.

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