Increase in Holiday Shopping Indicates Increased Confidence, Experts Say

PHOTO: Holdiay Shoppers
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With only six days left before Christmas, holiday shoppers are flooding the malls and local stores.

Nearly half of shoppers have not finished their Christmas shopping yet, and the traditional biggest shopping days -- Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Green Monday -- are all behind us. The outlook seems to be that it's shaping to be a robust season for the economy.

Experts say this year consumers have the upper hand, as stores opened for extended hours and online vendors offered major discounts, some even with free shipping.

Some stores called Saturday, Dec. 17 "Super Saturday," even though that name is usually reserved for the last Saturday before Christmas. The deals came early this year because Christmas Eve is actually the last Saturday before Christmas. Retailers offered the better deals earlier to get more shoppers into their stores than they would if they had waited until Dec. 24.

Frenzied shoppers hit the stores Saturday to take advantage of the kind of deals that retailers usually only offer at the last minute. Major chains including Macy's, Sears, and J.C. Penny cast out the bait, offering shoppers major discounts with up to 60 percent off some merchandise for a limited time.

"The holiday season this year favors the consumer," Ellen Davis of the National Retail Federation told ABC News. "Retailers have been very promotional, they know that the average shopper is still looking for a deal, spending on a budget, is very focused on small, discretionary items, basics and necessities."

Holiday Shopping Impact on Economy?

Increased holiday shopping hours, including on Thanksgiving, extended free shipping offers and more shipping days contributed to the rise in sales.

The National Retail Federation revised its holiday sales forecast upwards from 2.8 percent (which it had forecast in October) to 3.8 percent, for a record $469.1 billion.

Now while this is still below the 5.2 percent for 2010, it's above average for the past decade, and holiday shopping isn't even over.

One survey conducted by the National Retail Federation found consumers had completed less than half of their holiday shopping as of the second week in December, boosting retailers hopes.

Experts say that despite the tough job market and the weak stock and house prices, Christmas is shaping up to be surprisingly strong for retailers.

"Households are spending with some gusto," said Mark Zandi, Chief Economist for Moody's Analytics.

Zandi told ABC that increased confidence is helping both low and high income households finally start spending after long holding off, them decreasing the amount they're saving and putting that money back out in the economy.

"A solid Christmas buying season will set a very positive tone for the economy going into 2012," Zandi said.

Trish Regan, business analyst and journalist, reports that more shoppers are also using credit cards at a rate of 7.4 percent more than last year. Debit card purchases are up 3.4 percent over last year as well.

This is partly due to the increase in online shopping, since you can't pay cash online, but another reason is that people may not want to spend a lot of cash just yet, but they don't want to pass up on a good deal, Regan said.

Consumers may feel optimistic enough to buy on credit and worry about paying their debts after the new year, she said.

When it comes to the deals, though, experts warn, this may be as good as it gets.

"We are not expecting on the 23rd and 24th of December for there to be a lot of huge mark-downs," Davis said. "This is really when the prices are going to be very good, so if you're a shopper, this is the time to go out and buy."

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