Four types of American shoppers have altered the shopping landscape this holiday season.
Theres the bargain hunter who times deals. The midnight buyer who stays up late for discounts. The returner who gets buyers remorse. And the me shopper who self-gifts.
Its the latest shift by consumers in the fourth year of a weak U.S. economy. Shoppers are expected to spend $469.1 billion during the holiday shopping season that runs from November through December. While it wont be known just how much Americans spent until the season ends on Saturday, its clear they are shopping differently than in years past.
Were seeing different types of buying behavior in a new economic reality, says C. Britt Beemer, chairman of Americas Research Group.
Cost-conscious shoppers havent just been looking for bargains this season. Theyve also been more deliberate about when to find those deals. Many believe the biggest bargains come at the beginning and end of the season, which has created a kind of dumbbell effect in sales.
For the week ended on Nov. 26, which included the traditional start of the holiday shopping season on the day after Thanksgiving, stores had the biggest sales surge compared with the previous week since 1993, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Stores Sales Index.
The cumulative two-week-sales drop-off that followed marked the biggest percentage decline since 2000. Then, stores had another surge in the final days, as retailers stepped up promotions again.
Shoppers are budgeting their money and time, says Paco Underhill, whose company, Envirosell, studies how consumers behave in stores. Theyre focused on being opportunistic bargain shopping vultures.
This is when you get the best deals, says Middleton, an office manager, about her holiday shopping.
Bargain shoppers used to wake up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of big discounts on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. This year, some shoppers instead stayed up late on Thanksgiving night.
Shoppers who were lured into stores by bargains gleefully loaded up on everything from discounted tablet computers to clothing early in the holiday season. But soon after, many suffered a case of buyers remorse and rushed back to return some of the items that they bought.
The me shopper
After scrimping on themselves during the recession, Americans turned more self-indulgent. Its a trend that started last year, but became more prevalent this season.
According to the NRF, spending for non-gift items will increase by 16 percent this holiday season to $130.43 per person. Thats the highest number recorded since it started tracking it in 2004.
This season, the consumer put herself ahead of the giving, says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with market research firm The NPD Group.
Betty Thomas, a health-care coordinator at a hospital in Raleigh, N.C., says she spent $1,700 on a ring and bracelet for herself and a rug for her home during the holiday season. Thats up dramatically from the $200 she spent last year.
I have been putting other people first, Thomas says. I definitely felt I earned it.