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ATLANTA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Many U.S. shoppers held off shopping for gifts this weekend as winter storms hit parts of the nation and consumers planned to seek last-minute deals in the final days leading up to Christmas, according to a national survey released on Sunday.
The weak sales led the head of consumer marketing firm America's Research Group to lower his holiday sales-growth forecast.
"I'm now convinced that retailers do not understand the mindset of today's consumer," said Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of the firm. "Retailers are holding back on giving the big discounts that consumers want this year."
Beemer cut his outlook for retail same-store sales growth in November and December to 1.8 percent from 2 percent previously. "Weaker sales due to retailers holding back on big discounts has made me lower my forecast," he said.
Just 41.6 percent of consumers surveyed shopped this past weekend for Christmas gifts, America's Research Group found. Beemer said that figure marked the lowest weekend shopping levels in more than six years.
A SpendingPulse survey also released on Sunday showed a similar slowdown in weekend shopping. [ID:nN16371466]
Additionally, more people than ever are planning to finish their Christmas shopping at the last minute, hoping to find money-saving deals, the America's Research survey found.
Retailers are waiting to see if consumer spending holds up this holiday season, as the U.S. housing meltdown, rising gasoline and food prices and concerns that the American economy could be headed toward recession weigh on shoppers' psyches.
This weekend, weather chilled some holiday sales as snow fell in the U.S. Midwest and Northeast.
About 46 percent of consumers surveyed said they experienced bad weather during the weekend, with 18.8 percent of those indicating unfavorable weather led them to shop and spend less.
Among those who have completed less than 90 percent of their Christmas shopping, 50.9 percent said the lack of 50-to-60-percent discounts had some effect or a major effect on their shopping activity.
Additionally, 28.9 percent of those who have not completed their holiday shopping said they would wait until the day before Christmas to finish, in hopes of getting more sales, an "all-time high" result for that question, Beemer said.
"When you look at the fact that consumers have less money and are being frugal, I would say that probably not getting the deal is 80 percent of the equation, and weather is probably 20 percent .... as to why consumers are waiting longer," Beemer said.
As a result, Beemer said he expects Saturday, Dec. 22, to be the busiest holiday shopping day this year as bargain hunters look for deals.
"I think there will be a rebound next week," Beemer said. He also said he expects a lot of shopping after Christmas, since 57.6 percent of consumers in the survey said they had bought gift cards as holiday presents.
Some chains are making a big push to draw consumers in the final week leading up to Christmas.
For example, retailer Macy's Inc (M.N) said last week that it would keep eight high-traffic stores in the greater New York area open around the clock in the last few shopping days before the holiday.
The America's Research Group telephone survey, consisting of 800 interviews, was conducted on Dec. 15 and 16.
Editing by Valerie Lee