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Fewer plan to shop on Black Friday 2011, survey finds. What do they know?

Forty-four percent of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday 2011, a new survey shows. That compares with 47 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2009. Today's shoppers have more bargain-hunting tools.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / November 22, 2011

Shoppers stream into a Best Buy to take advantage of the store's early opening on Black Friday 2010, in Dartmouth, Mass. Forty-four percent of Americans plan to shop on Black Friday 2011, a new survey shows, compared with 47 percent last year.

Peter Pereira/The Standard Times of New Bedford/AP/File

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Sigh. Black Friday just isn't what it used to be.

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That's partly because the economy is so lackluster, according to a new holiday shopping survey released by Accenture, a global management consulting company. But it's also because consumers are better equipped – with smart phones and other devices – to help them land the best bargains, whether they occur on Nov. 25, this year's Black Friday, or another day between now and Christmas. 

"This holiday season will see the balance of power continue to tip in favor of the consumer,” says Janet Hoffman, managing director of Accenture’s Retail practice. 

Black Friday, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year, has become something of a tea-leaf-reading exercise for those seeking to gauge the health and direction of US consumerism. The expectations this year?

Nearly three-quarters of respondents in the Accenture survey expect their spending to be “careful” or “controlled.” Eighty-eight percent intend to spend the same or less than last year.

Moreover, the importance of Black Friday is sliding, its research shows. Forty-four percent say they are likely to shop that day, compared with 47 percent in 2010 and 52 percent in 2009.

Compared with last year, a larger proportion of shoppers say they'll leave their holiday shopping until after Black Friday (52 percent versus 41 percent in 2010), and one-third will leave the bulk of their purchases until December.

One-quarter of shoppers plan to have a “thrifty” holiday season, and almost 1 in 5 (18 percent) claim they will be "focused on necessities," with only 6 percent acknowledging plans for “extravagant” or “unrestrained” holiday spending. Ninety-three percent say discounts are important this year.

While discount stores remain the top holiday shopping destination, their dominant position is beginning to fade, the Accenture survey found. Seventy-three percent of respondents say they will shop at a discount retailer this year, compared with 81 percent last year and 85 percent in 2009.

One significant development that complicates matters for retailers, but that enhances the position of consumers, is the rising use of mobile and smart phones and tablet computers to compare prices online while in stores. Buyers can do a quick search to see if the same item is selling for less elsewhere. Forty-three percent of holiday shoppers who use such devices believe they will snag a better price as a result, and one-third say they will use their devices to receive alerts concerning when a product is in stock.

Another development is that the percentage of shoppers expecting to buy more than half of their holiday gifts online has jumped 18 percent (from 41 to 59 percent) over last year.

“Retailers must not ignore the challenge presented by the mobile shopper checking prices using their device in-store,” says Ms. Hoffman.

The slow economic recovery has been socking it to retailers this year.

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