* 74 pct of participants shopping less due to gas prices
* Gas prices trump unemployment as top consumer worry
* Many will wait until next year or longer to spend freely
* Shoppers prefer discounters over dept stores this spring
By Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK, March 21 U.S. shoppers plan to wait
until next year and beyond to spend generously again, a survey
on Monday showed, in an early sign that rising gasoline prices
could make the spring selling season tough for retailers.
About three-quarters of Americans surveyed by America's
Research Group said they were shopping less due to rising gas
prices, with more than 62 percent of the participants planning
to spend generously only next year or beyond.
Consumer spending accounts for about two-thirds of the U.S.
"The American shopper was extremely cautious before. And
now I'd say they are extremely worried," said Britt Beemer,
president of America's Research Group.
"What we are going to see happen is that consumers will try
and cut back on all discretionary purchases, until finally they
are going to have to make a decision at some point what do I
really have to give up?" Beemer said.
The national average for a gallon of self-serve, regular
gasoline was $3.57 on March 18, according to the Lundberg
Survey of about 2,500 gas stations. The current average price
is nearly 76 cents above the year-ago level. [ID:nN20253588]
Rising gas prices are their biggest concern about the U.S.
economy right now, a whopping 62 percent of those who
participated in the survey said. Less than 15 percent worried
about high unemployment and government spending too.
Despite some recent positive signs for the U.S. economy
including data showing a fall in claims for new unemployment
benefits and improving factory activity in the country's
Mid-Atlantic region, many Americans are still worried about the
health of the world's largest economy.
More than 68 percent of Americans who participated in the
survey said they did not think that the U.S. economy was back
This spring, more Americans plan to stretch their dollars
by shopping at discount chains rather than the pricier
department stores and specialty chains, the survey showed, with
753 out of 1,000 survey participants picking discounters as
potential shopping destinations for spring.
Even at the lower end, there will be intense competition,
"Wal-Mart (WMT.N) has a new enemy called the dollar
stores," Beemer said, adding that dollar stores could win more
customers as they offer more grocery.
The telephone survey, using questions asked by Reuters, was
conducted March 8-15 and has an error factor of plus or minus
(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan)