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Rising Energy Prices Driving Consumers Online

More than half of all consumers plan to make fewer trips to the mall, and 3 in 10 will do more shopping online than in stores, the Conference Board reported.

Higher energy prices are having an impact on U.S. consumer spending this holiday season, driving more shoppers online and away from the malls, The Conference Board reported Wednesday.

More than half of all consumers plan to make fewer trips to the mall, and 3 in 10 will do more shopping online than in stores, the nonprofit research group said. In addition, 1 out of 3 consumers expect to cut back spending overall to combat higher energy costs.

The board's findings support other research on holiday spending. Nielsen/NetRatings reported this week that online purchases for the week ending Dec. 6 were up 33 percent compared to the same period last year. Overall holiday spending, however, is on the low side of expectations so far, or about 3 percent higher than last year, Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said.

"It's not shaping up to be a blockbuster season, but it doesn't look like a bust, either," Franco said.

With out a doubt, higher gasoline prices and rising costs for heating homes are changing the way consumers are doing their holiday shopping, choosing the convenience and energy savings of shopping online. In addition, retailers are adding their own incentives through sales, promotions and free shipping.

The latter, however, has created a "Catch-22" for retailers, because holiday shoppers know if they wait long enough, they won't have to spend much more than last year, Franco said.

"By not going to the stores and waiting, the sales will come to them," she said.

The shift online during the holidays could become permanent, meaning there's no guarantee consumers will return to the malls, even if energy prices recede.

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