Last-Minute Holiday Shopping: Why We Wait

Last-Minute Holiday Shopping: Why We Wait

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If you’re like me and haven’t finished (or even started) your Christmas shopping, you’re not alone. According to a new survey, more than half of Americans will do the bulk of their holiday shopping between now and Tuesday. But the procrastinators may be risking more than simply coming home with a white elephant.

According to nearly 2900 Americans age 18 and over who were surveyed online last week by Harris Interactive, last-minute shopping is the most popular way to get ready for the great gift fest. Fifty-four percent of respondents said they’ll shop between now and Christmas Day – compared to 24 percent who said they typically shop on Black Friday and 23 percent who said they shop on Cyber Monday.

RELATED:   8 Things That Will Cost You More This Holiday Season

This is hardly the only survey to point out our proclivity for procrastinating. On Monday, Visa Inc. revealed that 73 percent of consumers still haven’t finished shopping for Christmas gifts. The survey, based on telephone interviews with 1,007 people, was done between Dec. 14 and Dec. 16 by GfK Roper OmniTel.

Entire books have been written about procrastination, including the aptly named The Thief of Time from a couple of years ago.  But the larger, more urgent question is why so many of us wait until the last minute to get our shopping done. The answer is not as simple as “We’re busy,” since we’re busy all the time.

Psychologists interviewed by Psychology Today say that a hefty 20 percent of people call themselves chronic procrastinators – and that for these poor souls, it’s a “lifestyle, albeit a maladaptive one.”  They also say that procrastinators are made, not born; that they are comfortable lying to themselves, as in, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow”; and, perhaps most intriguingly, that they run into “big costs” because of their last-minute habits, including compromised health and weaker relationships at home and work.

Other experts have discussed the notion of psychological distance, indicating that tasks we perceive as less concrete and detailed (such as the vague “buy a gift”) tend to get put off into the hazy future – as opposed to the very specific and clear “get Johnny a basketball.”

Still, the enticement of bargains and lower costs of goods may be a key reason people put off their shopping until prices have gone down – or maybe it’s just the best excuse around. 

Other results of the first-time survey by SOASTA, Inc., a cloud-based testing and analytics company in Mountain View, CA., which has advised Gilt, Windows, TurboTax , et al:
•     83 percent expressed concerns about the so-called fiscal cliff – with 30 percent saying it will make them buy less this year
•     40 percent say this year’s holiday shopping season shows the economy is getting better
•     12 percent say they’ll be leaving the hustle and bustle behind – and making their own gifts this year
•     5 percent will scrap the Tuesday deadline altogether – and shop for holiday gifts after Christmas
The survey also found that a majority of people (55 percent) are using online retail sites to shop for the holidays this year, while less than half – 46 percent – are still schlepping around to brick-and-mortar stores, dragging bags and boxes and who knows what else back to cars and buses and trains (and then needing medical attention for bad backs, further racking up their costs). 

For those of us who use our smartphones to shop for the holidays, nearly 60 percent said retail websites are performing better than last year, while just 6 percent said they’ve performed worse and 26 percent  said there was no change.  (The survey also found, by the way, that the percentage of Americans who own smart phones is now equal to the percentage of Americans who own regular mobile phones – 46 percent to 46 percent.)

All of this is why Tom Lounibos, the CEO of SOUSTA, explains that for today’s successful retailers, “It’s more important than ever for websites and mobile apps to work effectively. Even with concerns about the fiscal cliff, shoppers are still actively buying – still actively planning to shop between now and Christmas. So retailers need to make sure they’re prepared for the continuous shopping season.”


Maureen Mackey served as managing editor of The Fiscal Times for five years, during which time she oversaw scheduling and work flow and handled edits, writing and reporting of many features, news items, interviews and other content. In 2011 she helped The Fiscal Times win a MIN award for Best New