SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A leading consumer research firm raised its holiday retail sales outlook on Wednesday, due to what it called Wal-Mart's "domination" of the retail industry with its bargain-basement deals.
America's Research Group said it now expects retail sales to drop by 2.8 percent, compared with its earlier expectation of a decline of 3.5 percent.
The group's chief executive, Britt Beemer, said the revised outlook was due to "Wal-Mart's extraordinary domination of Christmas shopping this season."
America's Research Group surveyed 1,002 U.S. consumers by telephone last weekend.
"Wal-Mart had as many shoppers this weekend as J.C. Penney, Sears, Target and Toys "R" Us combined," said Beemer in a statement.
"The unheard-of domination of the retail industry this Christmas coupled with the fact that consumers are seeing and taking advantage of 60 percent - to 70 percent-off sales leads me to raise my forecast," he said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, attracted approximately two-thirds of U.S. shoppers this past weekend, the survey found.
The nearest competitors were Sears Holdings Corp, with 19.6 percent, J.C. Penney Co Inc at 18.1 percent and Target Corp at 17.9 percent.
Toys "R" Us Inc attracted 12.1 percent of shoppers last weekend.
Last year, Wal-Mart attracted 41.3 percent of shoppers during the same time frame, according to the survey.
Retailers are facing what some have warned could be the weakest holiday shopping season in nearly two decades. Struggling to combat lowered consumer spending amid a recession, rising unemployment and high food costs, store chains have had to slash prices to attract cash-strapped shoppers.
The weakened shopping environment has hurt most retailers' sales.
But discounter Wal-Mart has managed to buck the trend while gaining market share as consumers have gravitated to its low prices, contributing to a higher-than-expected sales rise in November.
The survey also found that more consumers were delaying purchases this holiday, with some 43.3 percent expecting to finish their shopping next weekend, compared with 33.9 percent a year earlier.
Some 40.9 percent said they were waiting for even more half-off sales to finish their holiday shopping, while 36.6 percent said they were waiting for promotions at more than 60 percent off normal prices.
As expected, toys, children's clothing and electronics were the top three sales categories.
Reporting by Alexandria Sage; editing by Carol Bishopric