NEW YORK (AP) — Shoppers are getting smarter.
The start of the holiday shopping season shows a simple discount, even a big one, isn't always enough to lure people to buy. Shoppers can sniff out a legitimate deal from a fake one and are even leaving items in online shopping carts as reminders to look for a better bargain.
Shoppers with more knowledge and new patience may have contributed to the less-than-stellar turnout over Thanksgiving weekend, the traditional kickoff of holiday shopping.
Stores heavily discounted holiday merchandise days and even weeks before Black Friday. That gave shoppers plenty of opportunities to avoid the big lines.
That seemed to backfire over Thanksgiving weekend. The endless stream of sales pitches made many shoppers confident that heavy discounts would continue right on through Christmas.
That may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The lukewarm start to the season means retailers will watch the next few weeks closely and could roll out more promotions than planned, says Dave Bassuk, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners.
"Retailers' greed hurt them, and the consumer is so much smarter," he said.
ShopperTrak, a Chicago-based consumer analytics company that tracks data at malls and stores but not online sites, said earlier this week that sales for the four-day weekend slipped 2.1 percent to $21.76 billion.
Cyber Monday deals are also being stretched out into "Cyber Week" and even earlier, crimping sales on the day itself. Sales rose 8.5 percent that day, the Monday after Thanksgiving, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. But that wasn't as strong as was expected.
The National Federation still projects sales will rise 4.1 percent for November and December, which accounts for on average 20 percent of the industry's total sales. But analysts expect a retail slugfest over winning those dollars.
Here are some of the ways people are shopping smarter:
DISCOUNTS AREN'T ENOUGH
Shoppers are addicted to deals, but it's taking more and more to get their attention.
Twenty percent off? Better throw in free shipping, too.
"They're acutely aware of all the elements of value," said the retail trade group's CEO Matt Shay.
Free shipping has been a top factor for online shoppers in deciding whether to buy. Ryan Urban, co-founder of Bounce Exchange, a technology company that works with more than 700 retailers' websites, says shoppers are converted to buyers at a rate 10 to 15 percent lower on websites that don't offer any free shipping.
Target Corp. is already attributing its sales surge online in part to its move to drop shipping fees for all online purchases until Dec 20. Thanksgiving saw a 40 percent surge in Target's online sales and was its biggest online sales day ever.
Consumers got more purposeful over this holiday weekend.
According to C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, a consumer research firm, 75 percent who went shopping on Thanksgiving and Black Friday wanted only the so-called doorbusters, deeply discounted specials intended to lure in customers; last year, that figure was 49.9 percent.
Stores hope those items, sometimes priced so low the retailer loses money on them, will result in impulse spending once shoppers are in the door.
Trying to push more online sales also may be a factor in reducing impulse purchases.
Marshal Cohen, NPD's group's chief industry analyst, estimates 45 percent of store shopping is done on impulse, compared with 25 percent online.
Some retailers did say they saw shoppers throwing extra items in their carts — CEOs of both Toys R Us and Target noted it.
Shoppers are not in a hurry to attack their holiday buying for many reasons.
NPD'S Cohen said that other than gadgets like Apple's iPhone 6 or specific toys like the Elsa doll tied to Disney's "Frozen" movie, there are no hot items that are hard to find. So shoppers know they can find better deals later in the season.
"There's no urgency to buy," said Cohen. "So consumers are in the driver's seat."
Increasing, shoppers are using website shopping carts to store items, not to immediately buy them, but as a reminder to shop around for betters deals, according to Bounce Exchange's Urban and others.
Paul Wolke, a 46-year-old photographer from Washington, N.J., started looking online a day before Thanksgiving. His wish list: accessories for a gym in his basement. He threw four items like hand weights and pull cables in his Amazon.com cart — but hasn't bought them.
"I'm using the Amazon cart almost as a shopping list with prices," he said.
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