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    Charleston, SC, December 19, 2005… With so many shoppers still not finished with their Christmas gift list, the final week will be hectic in retail stores with shoppers searching for bigger discounts up to Christmas Eve, according to the findings of a consumer spending survey over the weekend by America’s Research Group (ARG). Although over half of all Americans are essentially finished with their Christmas gift list (34.5% say they are finished and an additional 17.7% are 90% complete), this compares to 64.6% of consumers who, a year ago at the same time, had completed their shopping.

    Based on these findings, C. Britt Beemer, CEO and founder of ARG, raised his Christmas forecast to a 3.3% increase in sales over last year. The figures will be in the 3% to 4% range, but on the lower side, he predicts. Beemer says that he has changed his forecast in mid season only three times in the last 15 years and that he has forecast Christmas sales accurately in 11 out of the last 12 seasons.

    “I have never seen a Christmas with so many Americans ‘sleepwalking through the shopping season’ hoping they can get it all done by Saturday,” Beemer said. He still sees “some clouds out there” for retailers.

    1) The number of shoppers buying something for themselves is the lowest since Christmas 2002, a year impacted by 9 11. This year only 38.5% have bought something for themselves compared to 48.0% last year and 44.7% in December 2003.

    2) Almost a quarter of consumers (24.2%) still see stores decorated less this year compared to 12.2% last Christmas.

    3) An even higher number (25.8%) are concerned about store employees not saying “Merry Christmas” as they hand purchases to the customer.

    4) And 24.2% have walked out of stores where they can not get sales help this year. (In all ARG surveys last year that figure was never over 12%.)

    5) Usually parents have completed their children’s gift list by now, but only 61.5% are done compared to 70.1% last year, 76.0% two years ago and 85.6% in Christmas 2002. The lack of a hot toy is making it more difficult to find their children that perfect Christmas present from Santa.

    Other study highlights include Wal-Mart the store traffic leader at 43.4%, JCPenney next at 26.3% and Sears third at 24.7%. However, when comparing these to last year Wal-Mart was at 43.1%, JCPenney was at 19.7% and Sears at 21.1%. JCPenney saw the biggest sales increase due to the strongest early bird specials this weekend.

    Shopping this weekend was very strong with 57.6% buying over these two days compared to 52.0% last year.

    On-line gift purchases are up to 33.5% from 29.7% last year.

    Catalog shopping was down at 17.9% compared to 24.2% last year.

    Gift cards have become very popular in the last two weeks with 47.3% buying them thus far compared to 39.5% a year ago.

    While toys remain the top category, they are definitely down this year with 29.1% buying toys compared to 33.5% a year ago.

    Electronics remain very strong with 23.2% buying them this week compared to 19.7% last year. Electronics still have big appeal going into this shopping week.

    The survey revealed that consumers are shopping until the last day this year, so retailers wanting to catch up have six more days to “jump-start” store sales by offering big savings and discounts, according to Beemer. Retailers started the season aggressively, but backed off, these last three weekends, he said.

    “Retailers need a new marketing plan if they want to get their fair share of shoppers, who know that they will get a better deal if they wait until the last moment,” Beemer said.

    Survey of 801 shoppers conducted on December 16, 2005 to December 18, 2005, and has an error factor of +/-4.3%.

    America's Research Group is the consumer research-focused business development firm that provides clients the insight, strategy and tactics to increase market share. America’s Research Group's expertise in consumer behavior has made it a key resource and advisor to leading brands and top retailers in the nation for 25 years.