For a winning holiday, retailers must pull off a strong Black Friday and offer big, storewide discounts throughout the season, according to a consumer survey conducted by America’s Research Group and the Inmar technology firm.

ARG and Inmar said retailers can expect sales to be up 2.5 percent or higher if shoppers see big discounts early. The study also found that the number of Americans feeling heavily pressured from debt is down, to 16.5 percent in 2013 from 21.4 percent in 2012.

On the negative side, higher food and gas prices will cut into how much consumers spend on holiday gifts, and could see fewer shoppers.

The ARG-Inmar research consisted of 1,000 telephone interviews conducted from Nov. 1 to 4.

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Additional surveys will be conducted weekly during the holiday season. “If retailers give consumers megadiscounts throughout the season, it will be a very strong season, but if they try to play the game by luring shoppers with limited sale offers, there will be a lot of serious shopper rebellion,” said Britt Beemer, chairman and ceo of America’s Research Group.

“Higher food prices are a reality right now,” said John Ross, executive vice president, Inmar. “Consumers today are now using digital technology along with paper coupons to save money as they are shopping in the store.”

Ross said the growth in digital couponing has been dramatic.

Among the survey’s other findings:

• Of those spending less this Christmas season, 30.4 percent said it was due to higher gas and food prices this year versus 19.6 percent in 2012.

• The number of shoppers doing the majority of their gift shopping before Black Friday has risen to 9.6 percent this year from 2.2 percent in 2012.

• More consumers are seeking cheaper gifts, with 19.1 percent of those surveyed focused on gifts priced $21 to $25, versus 17.2 percent last year.

• Homemade gifts are losing some appeal. Of those surveyed, 21.2 percent will give homemade gifts compared with 27.5 percent in 2012.

• Gift card buying continues to rise, with 59 percent of those surveyed planning to buy them versus 56.9 percent in 2012.

• Fewer shoppers are buying for themselves: 33.1 percent in 2013 versus 39.7 percent in 2012. n Apparel gifts are on the rise, with 32.5 percent of the consumers surveyed seeking them this holiday season, versus 25.1 percent in 2012.

• For apparel gifts, 9.4 percent of the consumers surveyed plan to shop J.C. Penney, versus 10.9 percent in 2012. Sears will drop to 6.4 percent this year, from 9 percent last year.

• Spending at Amazon could fall, with 13.3 percent of those surveyed planning to shop the site this year, versus 18.4 percent in 2012.

• Overall discount store shopping for apparel will be up, to 30.7 percent this year from 25.4 percent a year ago.

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