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With Black Friday and Cyber Monday approaching, the holiday season is in full swing, and promotions and discounts are the talk of the town. But interestingly, while consumers appear to believe that deals will best be found online, new research presents a more mixed picture. Turning to consumers first, there seems to be a correlation between planned purchases of discounted gifts and the propensity to shop online.

Newly-released survey results from The Conference Board examine the planned behaviors of households intending to purchase holiday gifts, and the results appear to reveal consumers’ belief that the best deals will be found online. Among those intending to purchase holiday gifts, 51.3% of those at the lowest income level (under $15,000) think that at least one-quarter of their purchases will be discounted or on sale. At the highest level of income ($50,000 or more), 70.6% believe at least one-quarter of their holiday gift baskets will be purchased on sale. That’s certainly a surprising result, given that one might expect lower-income consumers to shop more exclusively for deals.

What’s interesting, though, is that the gap between lower- and higher-income respondents corresponds to their shopping destinations, too. For the lowest income segment, just 14% plan to purchase at least one-quarter of their gifts online. For the highest income segment, that figure rises to 51.8%.

That gap doesn’t just apply to the lowest- and highest-income segments. In fact, there’s a strong trend across incomes in both cases. That is, the higher the income of the respondent, the more likely the respondent is to plan discounted gift purchases, and the more likely the respondent is to plan to buy gifts online. While there may be other factors at play, this suggests that consumers strongly correlate online shopping with savings. Indeed, recent survey results from WSL/Strategic Retail found that even among Black Friday shoppers, two-thirds believe they can find comparable savings online.

But is this perception well-founded? According to at least one piece of research, the answer is no. A new study from Market Track finds instead that the best prices are found in-store, not online. Using TVs as an example (though the company reports that the same trend was found across numerous item types), the study finds that when comparing prices among the top 50 brick-and-mortar retailers and e-retailer sites for a basket of items, the best prices were found online only 21% of the time, compared to more than 55% of the time in the print circular promoting an in-store deal.

While that study centers on circulars promoting in-store deals, new survey results [pdf] from the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA) indicate that consumers often respond to unsolicited marketing mail by going online, rather than visiting the store.

According to the ACMA results, which looked specifically at consumer response to catalogs, 92% of consumers who reported receiving catalogs said they had made a purchase from those catalogs. But among those consumers, far more said they had looked through the catalog and then purchased from the cataloger’s website (72%) than said they had looked and then purchased from the company’s store (49%). And asked their preferred method for purchasing from a company whose catalog they received, 51% chose online purchases, compared to 16% who pointed to in-store purchases.

The inclination, then, appears strong on the part of consumers to shop online for savings. The results may turn out to be inconclusive, but research supports the ability to save money online, up to $8,870 per year on account of broadband access for the average household income before taxes of $63,685, according to the Internet Innovation Alliance (more details here). And while consumers and research may vary on the extent to which holiday savings can be found online, recent retail e-commerce growth patterns suggest that this will be a big holiday season for online shopping.

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