Discounts and Online Shopping are High on Consumers' Wish Lists This Season

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Promotions and hassle-free shopping are top of mind for consumers as they begin to think about the holiday shopping season. According to a number of studies, an increasing number of savvy holiday shoppers with limited budgets and a lack of time, plan to maximize discounts and deals this holiday season, as well as take to the Internet to conduct their shopping.

Promotions and hassle-free shopping are top of mind for consumers as they begin to think about the holiday shopping season. According to a number of studies, an increasing number of savvy holiday shoppers with limited budgets and a lack of time, plan to maximize discounts and deals this holiday season, as well as take to the Internet to conduct their shopping.According to the National Research Federation's Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by BIGresearch, which polled 8,585 consumers about their holiday shopping plans, sales and price discounts largely win out (41.6 percent) as the most important factor when shopping this season, although customer service (6 percent versus 5.3 percent last year) and quality of merchandise (14.6 percent versus 12.7 percent in 2010) are becoming increasingly vital components in consumers' decision-making processes.

Additionally, on average, consumers plan to spend $704.18 on holiday gifts and seasonal merchandise, down slightly from last year's $718.98. "When it comes to retail growth this holiday season, slow and steady wins the race and the same is true for shoppers, who are meticulously calculating the best ways to stretch their dollar," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release.

A survey from SteelHouse, a vendor of real-time marketing solutions, also indicates an expected change in holiday shopping behavior this season, with one-third of respondents saying they will not purchase without a discount or free shipping offer this season. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (62 percent) said they'll spend less overall.

Finally, according to GfK Custom Research's North America's 2011 Holiday Shopping Survey, 84 percent of consumers intend to spend less or the same amount when shopping this year, compared to 2010. The survey polled 1,007 Americans ages 18 and over, establishing that 40 percent of American households will spend less this year. Only 11 percent of those polled plan to spend more money this holiday season.

And with the Internet quickly becoming the destination of choice for many shoppers looking for greater ease, more people will seek out retailers' holiday deals online this year. Nearly half (46.7 percent) of the respondents in the NRF study said they will buy online, up from 43.9 percent last year. Additionally, average holiday shoppers plans to do 36 percent of their shopping online, whether they're comparing prices, researching products, or actually making a purchase.

In the SteelHouse study 30 percent of the respondents said they prefer to browse online than in stores to find deals. And in Shop.org's eHoliday survey, also conducted by BIGresearch, nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) of retailers said they expect their company's online sales to grow at least 15 percent or more, compared to last holiday season, up from the 63.8 percent who had those expectations last year. Also, nine out of 10 (92.5 percent) of retailers said they will offer free shipping.

Given these findings, we asked some consumers about their holiday shopping expectations this season and their responses aligned with the studies' findings. Here is what some of them said:

"Not sure what's going to happen with this economy, but I am sure the stores will still be crazy. I find that it's best to shop online. A lot of places offer free shipping and it's hassle-free. If consumers wait too long though, the shelves will be empty and they'll have to go with whatever is left." - Kristin Kreuder Overton, Stamford, CT

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"Shipping must be free for me to purchase online. I'd rather wait in line at a store during the holidays than pay for shipping. I also expect coupons or some kind of discount or specials for certain days." - Angel Juliano, Hopewell Junction, NY

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"Because of my busy schedule and that I live in a small town where the variety of stores is limited, I do most of my Christmas shopping online. It's all about the free shipping. If it is not free then I am not buying. I recently needed an item from Land's End for my daughter and I could only get it by paying for shipping. My daughter really wanted it, so she paid me the cost to ship the item, which was nearly $10. It took a full week to come in. I just ordered some shoes for myself from Zappos. They always offer free shipping and I got the shoes in less than 24 hours! It made me feel as if I was being ripped off by Land's End.
- Maria Gleba, Chambersburg, PA

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I do very little holiday shopping online. I have to actually see the item that I am purchasing to see if it is what I want to buy. The one thing that does drive me to purchase are discounts. I ask for very little help in stores because the employees can be nasty.
-- Kim Flaherty, Norwalk, CT

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I don't shop at stores during Christmas. It's not because of the stores; it's because of the people. - Andrew Rinaldi, New York City

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I do my shopping online. Here's why. I can browse at home or work. Usually I know what I need to buy. In the U.K. consumers get massive discounts online compared with going into stores. For example, I recently bought some new headphones for my Ipod. At the same store online was £50 cheaper than when I walked into the shop. So...I tend to window shop if I get time in the stores, then I buy online. Also....most sites offer free shipping...But I still love window shopping at odd times and then popping into a pub for a Christmas ale or two." -- Craig Moran, London

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I like Amazon for the following reasons:
- The site aggregates products from all retailers so I can search for exactly what I want and buy through a single outlet,
- It stores all the shipping addresses I've used previously so I don't have to get out the address book every time I want to send a gift to my nieces and nephews across the U.S.,
- It tracks my purchase history so I can see what I've bought in prior years and won't buy it again, and
- Amazon shows me similar items according to what others have bought so it gives me additional options that I might not be aware of. For example, if I'm buying for a 3-year-old and I have no idea what today's 3-year-olds are into, it gives me recommendations.- Kristin Scott, Philadelphia

Whatever the channel of choice or the motive for shopping may be for consumers, one thing is certain: Retailers must be prepared to deliver optimal customer experiences this holiday season so that customers will return in 2012.

1to1 Media Senior Writer Cynthia Clark contributed to this article.

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