As the U.S. economy improves, more of the shoppers who flocked to Wal-Mart to save money during the recession are moving back to the stores they frequented before, a new survey showed on Friday.

In a survey by America's Research Group, 33 percent of people who shopped more at the world's largest retailer in the last two years said they are now moving back to where they used to shop, at least to some extent. Almost 63 percent said they were staying at Wal-Mart.

But a year ago, the number of consumers who said they were going back to stores they had shopped at previously was only about 20 percent, according to Britt Beemer, founder of consumer research firm America's Research Group.

The consumer is starting to fall away in some categories, Beemer said, adding that some shoppers may still be buying some basics at Wal-Mart Stores Inc, but shopping elsewhere for certain clothes and other items.

Last month, Wal-Mart reported a drop in holiday sales and gave a disappointing profit outlook.

Earlier this week, Wal-Mart's chief operating officer Bill Simon said at an investor conference the company held on to the new customers it attracted in the fourth quarter of 2008, during the middle of the recession.

Yes, we've held the majority of them, he said at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference

America's Research Group asked several questions for Reuters as part of a larger survey the firm conducted on March 5-10, interviewing 1,000 participants.

In other questions, 30.8 percent of consumers said they felt better about their own economic circumstances than they did 3 months ago, 47.2 percent felt the same and 21.7 percent felt worse.

On Friday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's Surveys of Consumers showed U.S. consumer sentiment declined slightly in early March, with Americans less positive about the job outlook.

More shoppers said they were planning to buy spring clothes this year than said so last year, the latest sign apparel retailers were coming out of a long slump.

A total of 57.6 percent of those surveyed said they planned to buy clothes for themselves and 64.3 percent said they planned to buy clothes for their families.

Last year, only about 34 percent of consumers planned to buy spring clothes for themselves or their family, Beemer said.

The survey has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.

(Reporting by Brad Dorfman; editing by Andre Grenon)