SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The number of U.S. shoppers unable to resist buying "impulse" gifts for themselves or others is on the rise this season, due to the plethora of discounts and deals in stores.
Some 46 percent of U.S. consumers have already purchased an "impulse item" this season, according to an exclusive survey for Reuters by consumer research firm America's Research Group.
That number increased from 28 percent and 38 percent in two similar surveys conducted earlier in November.
The impulse buying is due to the attractive price tags offered by retailers, who are having to discount merchandise to lure shoppers.
About 55 percent of consumers said they found the deals better this year than last year, with only 26 percent saying they appeared to be comparable.
"What this says is, a lot of people have seen something they've bought they weren't planning on," said Britt Beemer, president of America's Research Group. "You have 55 percent of people saying the deals are better this year, which is why the 46 percent made an impulse purchase."
Retailers from Macy's Inc to Wal-Mart Stores Inc started promoting merchandise earlier this year, even in advance of Black Friday, the historical kick-off to the holiday shopping season, which attracts droves of shoppers for "door buster" deals.
Amid high unemployment and a slow recovery for the U.S. economy, shoppers are still tentative about opening their wallets, but recent sales data from the Thanksgiving weekend point to pent-up demand that has boosted revenue.
Last week, retailers posted their best sales gains in four years in November, although analysts cited the danger of narrowing profit margins from the surge of discounts.
The National Retail Federation still expects that retail sales will rise by a mere 2.3 percent this November and December, compared with a 1.1 percent rise in 2009 and a 3.4 percent decline in 2008.
The survey found that 72 percent of consumers planned to shop in the first two weeks of December, up from about 62 percent last year.
And more people may find a present under the tree for themselves this year, according to the survey.
Respondents said they were twice as likely to buy gifts for more people this year, than less people.
That could add up to a lot more cash for retailers, given that the average spent for a gift is $45, said Beemer.
This year's hot gift is a smart phone and some 16 percent of respondents said they either had already purchased one, or planned to buy one soon.
The telephone survey of 1,000 U.S. households was conducted on Dec 4 and Dec 5.