Consumers Ignore Early Shopping Year After Year

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Retailers keep inching the holiday shopping season up every year, with the first ads, banners and discount Christmas promotions starting in late September -- barely one week after the end of the summer.

But as hard as retailers try to rush into the holiday shopping season, consumers are in no hurry to accommodate them.

Most shoppers wait until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping, according to TransUnion, the consumer credit behemoth.

Consumers have 40% more "spend activity" on their credit cards in December than any other month in the year, TransUnion says, and 20% of credit card holders spend twice as much in December as any other month.

November, which should be a banner month for retailers, doesn't even rank as second-strongest. That honor goes to August, when consumer spending is 7% higher than the average month thanks to back-to-school shopping.

February, March and April are the worst months for retailers, and from January to May consumers generally put their plastic away until the summer vacation seasons starts.

"Our data clearly show that significantly more consumer spend is reported in December than in a typical month, even though many retailers offer considerable incentives much earlier in the holiday season," says Ezra Becker, vice president of research and consulting at TransUnion. "As importantly, we also found that those individuals who spent the most in a given year were likely to be ones to do so the following year."

That means holiday shoppers not only wait to December to spend money, but that they're likely to do the same thing every year, and credit card firms know it. That tardiness can work out well for consumers, as credit card firms really get aggressive about winning their business at that time of year.

"There is a three in four chance that the same individuals who spend either the most or least on their credit cards will remain the same the following year," Becker says. "Financial institutions, who had previously only been able to observe their own portfolios for spend information, can now use these data to better market their products to consumers. As a result, consumers utilizing credit cards may receive better interest rates, better credit lines or more rewards from lenders -- in other words, a better fit of products to their needs."

That's an eye-opener for credit card customers: If you're looking for a better deal on a new credit card, or better rates or rewards points on an existing card, December may be the best time to negotiate with card carriers -- yet another last-minute, end-of-the-year gift.