One-Quarter of Consumers Haven’t Even Started Holiday Shopping Yet

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In a survey conducted this past weekend, 25% of consumers said they hadn’t yet bought a single present for the holidays. But they can’t blame retailers — many of which launched Christmas sales starting in September.

Why have so many shoppers waited so long? Respondents to Consumer Reports‘ latest Holiday 2011 poll gave all sorts of reasons. Some said they hadn’t had time; others admitted that they were procrastinators. Of those who hadn’t begun shopping as of Dec. 18, plenty (25%) gave the simple reason that they just plain hate shopping.

This year has been one of the best ever for procrastinating shoppers — at least in terms of being able to buy gifts late in the game without paying a premium. This year, tons of e-retailers have been promoting special deals that include free shipping, with packages guaranteed to arrive by Christmas Eve.

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The only way consumers can make online purchases now and still expect the goods to arrive in time for Christmas morning is to opt for overnight or two-day shipping — services that are rarely ever free. That leaves last-minute shoppers with little choice other than to go the old-fashioned route and hit brick-and-mortar stores.

Among those surveyed by CR who still have shopping to do, one-quarter said they plan on spending some of Christmas Eve at the mall. And when the clock really begins winding down, where do shoppers turn for desperation gifts? Three out of 10 said they’ll head to the supermarket, while 25% will seek out drugstores and 20% will hit up a 7-Eleven or other convenience store. More than one-third (34%), meanwhile, will pick up last-minute presents at a liquor store.

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Because giving cash is seen as crass, many last-minute shoppers turn to gift cards, which, of course, are promoted as perfect gift ideas because they’re just as good as cash. Only they’re not. Another CR story cautions against gift cards because so many of them go unused:

Four out of 10 consumers named gift cards as their last-minute go-to gift in a 2010 Consumer Reports survey. Our surveys also show that a quarter of people who receive them as holiday gifts have at least one lying around 10 months later.

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Sure, there are sites where you can sell or swap gift cards, and there’s even a new Gift Card Exchange Day planned for Dec. 26, when recipients of undesirable cards are supposed to get the best value when unloading them. But the need for such services only bolsters the argument that it’s better to give cash.

Then again, there’s nothing that says you have to spend money on gifts and treats around the holidays. In a survey from last year, 12% of those polled said they planned on spending nothing whatsoever.

Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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