By  on October 10, 2011

Retailers might be getting a bit less bang for their Black Friday buck this year and find themselves more dependent than ever on the spending of the affluent for their holiday season increases.

These were among the findings of the annual holiday shopping survey of global consulting firm Accenture, which conducted an online poll of 500 U.S. consumers last month. The study found a steep increase in the percentage of shoppers planning to stay out of stores on Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday selling season.

Forty-four percent this year said they were very likely (19 percent) or somewhat likely (25 percent) to shop on Black Friday, down from 47 percent (21 percent and 26 percent, respectively) last year and 52 percent (22 percent and 30 percent, respectively) in 2009. Thirty-five percent said they were “not at all likely” to shop on Black Friday, up from 28 percent last year, and 16 percent said they were unlikely to shop then, down from 20 percent a year ago.

Still, 37 percent expect the best discounts to be available on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the busiest day for online shopping.

“The impact of Black Friday is certainly lessening because there are discounts throughout the season and not everyone wants to get up at 5 in the morning to go shopping,” said Chris Donnelly, senior executive in Accenture’s retail practice. “The other thing we’re seeing is that the lower-income shopper, and that’s unfortunately becoming a bigger percentage of the population, tends not to have as much money at the end of the month, especially if they’ve just had Thanksgiving. That combination is pushing more purchases into December.”

This year Thanksgiving Day is Nov. 24 and Black Friday Nov. 25, with Cyber Monday falling on Nov. 28.

Almost nine in 10 of those polled — 88 percent — said they would spend less or the same on gifts as they did last year, with 22 percent indicating less and 66 percent indicating the same. Asked why they weren’t spending more, 43 percent cited less discretionary income, 37 percent an increase in living expenses and 37 percent said they wanted to keep the holidays “simple and not too extravagant.” Thirty percent said they had less savings and 15 percent cited less job security.

Twelve percent said they would spend more than a year ago, with 41 percent of that group saying they had more discretionary income, up from 25 percent a year ago, and an equal percentage noting that prices were up, ahead of last year’s 30 percent affirmative response. Twenty-six percent of those intending to spend more checked off “I want to treat myself and my family after a tough year.” That response wasn’t offered in 2010, which could explain why the “none of the above” response declined to 2 percent this year from 20 percent in 2010.

“There’s an underlying desire to treat yourself after such a difficult period,” Donnelly said. “People have struggled and they’re looking for that little something special, a kind of holiday treat. People have been cautious and thrifty — if the deal is right and the treat is right, you might get that extra purchase.”

He said that mentality has helped retail sales in recent months could lead consumers to pull back a bit in January, a far less critical month for retailers than November or December.

Accenture found that 71 percent of those with earnings of more than $100,000 expect to spend over $500 this holiday, more than twice the level of 32 percent for all respondents.

Gift cards displaced apparel as the most popular gift item this year by a margin of 57 percent to 54 percent, versus a 57 to 56 edge for apparel last year. No other classification garnered higher than the 36 percent registered by toys, but that was down from 41 percent a year ago and 44 percent in 2009.

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