October 10, 2011, 9:34 AM

Most online holiday shoppers will buy more on the web than in stores

59% say they will buy mainly on the web, Accenture study says.

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More than half of online consumers say they will buy most of their holiday gifts via the web this year, and many will use mobile phones and tablet computers to shop for bargains, according to an annual holiday survey released today by consulting firm Accenture.

59% say they will do most of their holiday shopping online, a significant increase from 41% in the same survey, Accenture says. However, the percentage saying they will shop for holiday gifts online did not change significantly, dropping slightly to 66% from 69% in 2010. Accenture surveyed 500 consumers online in September.

The biggest incentive to shopping online is free shipping, cited by 74%, followed by finding better discounts (60%). 47% say they shop online to avoid crowds, and that may explain why fewer online shoppers say they will buy on the Friday after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday. 44% of consumers responding to the survey say that they are likely to shop on Black Friday, compared to 47% in 2010 and 52% in 2009.

Among consumers who do go into stores, more than half (54%) of consumers who say they will use their mobile phones for shopping this year say they will use their phones to compare prices in stores; 35% say they will use tablet computers for the same purpose.

43% of consumers planning to shop with a smartphone expect the device will help them get better discounts, while 36% of tablet shoppers feel the same. 32% say they will use a mobile device to receive alerts when a product is in stock.

“Retailers must not ignore the challenge presented by the mobile shopper checking prices using their device in-store to check prices,” said Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s retail practice. “Their response should be driven by the use of customer segmentation to provide them with a detailed picture of what their customer is looking for. This information can be used to develop applications that attract shoppers to differentiated and value-added offerings. Mobile devices for sales associates are also useful tools for enabling a real-time, in person experience with customers that is as good as, and often better, than that enjoyed by mobile shoppers.”

Overall, the survey shows that most consumers are planning to shop carefully this holiday season, although many of the more affluent will spend freely.

72% of respondents say their spending this holiday season will be “careful” or “controlled,” and 88% say they will spend the same or less than last year. But 71% of those earning more than $100,000 expect to spend at least $500 on holiday gifts this year.

While 24% plan a “thrifty” holiday season, 19% plan to spend more than $750 on holiday gifts versus 14% last year. And a larger proportion of respondents spending more this season will be raising their level of spending by $500 or more compared to last year (16% vs. 10% in 2010).

“‘Precision shoppers’ will dominate,” Hoffman says. “They will be very targeted about where and what they buy, and will be more inclined to shop around for the best value. Stores should focus on providing an experience and services that create a sense of extra value in the mind of the shopper. The research data, and our conversations with clients, leads us to expect a boost from high income shoppers who are planning to treat themselves and their families.”

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