American consumers continued to shop for gifts even after the major kick-off to the shopping season last holiday weekend, but many will delay purchases until a second wave of major promotions later in the month, according to a survey released Sunday.

Even though about 49 percent of surveyed consumers went shopping this Saturday and Sunday, most visited only one or two stores, according to the national survey released Sunday by consumer-behavior marketing firm America's Research Group.

Half of America went shopping this weekend but they weren't very serious about it, Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of the group, told Reuters. It tells you how little shopping they really did.

Retailers are anxiously waiting to see whether consumer holiday spending can hold up amid higher gas prices, a housing slump and the fallout from the credit crunch.

Many experts have warned of weak holiday sales growth, and last weekend -- the traditional kick-off to the holiday shopping season -- was marked by doorbuster promotions that can draw in shoppers but crimp profit margins due to heavy discounting.

The survey's results indicate a bargain-hunting mentality this year, Beemer said. Although 60 percent of consumers said they had continued to shop for gifts since the Thanksgiving weekend, some 54 percent of those who hadn't said they were awaiting big, money-saving deals just before Christmas.

And for those shoppers who haven't finished shopping yet, about one third said they would be done by December 24, waiting until the last minute to take advantage of even further last-minute discounting.

Some 23 percent said they would spend less this year, which Beemer called an all-time high and well above the 16 percent seen in 2006 and 2005.

The survey, consisting of telephone interviews with 801 consumers conducted Saturday and Sunday, has an error factor of plus or minus 4.3 percent.


One surprise in the survey was that Sam's Club, the warehouse chain owned by Wal-Mart Stores, outranked Toys R Us when respondents were asked where they did most of their holiday shopping.

In the years I've been doing research I've never seen Sam's Club ahead of Toys R Us -- ever, Beemer said. I think it's a reflection of how much a bargain hunter the shopper is today.

Also playing a role, he said, were recent problems in the toy industry due to lead and other unsafe components having been found in Chinese-made toys this year, spurring millions of toy recalls.

One beneficiary of this could be bike manufacturers. Bicycles were listed as the No. 1 gift choice for those who said they would avoid toys from China this holiday.

The issue is, your kid doesn't chew on a bicycle, Beemer said. It tells you how difficult it has to be for the toy industry and Toys R Us in particular.