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Fewer plan to shop on Black Friday 2011, survey finds. What do they know?

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While discount stores remain the top holiday shopping destination, their dominant position is beginning to fade, the Accenture survey found. Seventy-three percent of respondents say they will shop at a discount retailer this year, compared with 81 percent last year and 85 percent in 2009.

One significant development that complicates matters for retailers, but that enhances the position of consumers, is the rising use of mobile and smart phones and tablet computers to compare prices online while in stores. Buyers can do a quick search to see if the same item is selling for less elsewhere. Forty-three percent of holiday shoppers who use such devices believe they will snag a better price as a result, and one-third say they will use their devices to receive alerts concerning when a product is in stock.

Another development is that the percentage of shoppers expecting to buy more than half of their holiday gifts online has jumped 18 percent (from 41 to 59 percent) over last year.

“Retailers must not ignore the challenge presented by the mobile shopper checking prices using their device in-store,” says Ms. Hoffman.

The slow economic recovery has been socking it to retailers this year.

“Retailers may not get as much coal in their stocking this holiday season, but they will still need a miracle to get the cash registers ringing,” says Jane Bailey of TPN, a retail marketing agency, in a statement. While their forecasters predict a 2 to 3 percent increase over last year’s retail sales, many retailers placed orders for holiday merchandise last spring, when it looked as if the economy was on the upswing, says Ms. Bailey.

With the subsequent debt-limit clash over the summer and this week's failure of the congressional deficit-cutting “super committee” to devise a plan, “retailers aren’t certain if consumers are feeling confident enough to shop,” she says. “If overstocked with items, retailers will have to slash prices to move merchandise, causing lower sales.” [Editor's note: The original attribution of the source in the preceding two paragraphs was incorrect and has been changed.]

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