By  on December 17, 2009

To the dismay of stores nationwide, more consumers are putting off their Christmas shopping than last year, the National Retail Federation said Wednesday.

The average person had completed 46.7 percent of his or her holiday shopping by the second week of December, compared with 47.1 percent last year, according to NRF’s 2009 “Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey” conducted by BIGresearch.

The NRF said this is the lowest percentage since 2004, when the average person had completed 46.3 percent of his or her shopping by the same period.

Retailers have been price promoting steadily this season, mostly up to 40 percent off, but the price cuts haven’t been as deep as last year because inventories are lower. Stores are expected to roll out heftier discounts any day in hopes of creating incentives for a nation of shopping procrastinators. Consumers are well aware that the longer they wait, the bigger the markdown, but may face more stockouts than last year.

“Retailers know the final lap counts the most and are planning to emphasize promotions and discounts to bring in last-minute shoppers,” said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive officer of the NRF. “As Christmas Day creeps closer, retailers will be ready for an influx of procrastinators, from those who are checking the final names off their list to millions who haven’t even started shopping.”

The NRF said almost 42 million people — 19.1 percent — had not even started their shopping as of late last week, while just 8.6 percent completely finished. People ages 65 or older have completed the most shopping, 50 percent, and adults 45 to 54 years old have completed the least, 44.1 percent.

The survey of 9,929 consumers polled from Dec. 1 to 9 found that only 11.9 percent of shoppers said they will buy their last gift Christmas Eve, and 35 percent plan to finish their shopping by Saturday.

The NRF said discounters and department stores will get the most crowded as the holiday nears, and listed apparel, books, CDs, DVDs, videos and video games, toys, gift cards, electronics and food as the popular gift items this season so far.

The trade association forecast that holiday sales will decline 1 percent from last year.

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