An overwhelming majority of US shoppers are waiting for bigger and better discounts in the run-up to Christmas before completing their festive purchases, according to a new survey.

And alarmingly for apparel retailers, clothing purchases already falling behind last year, with more than one-third (35.7%) of consumers saying they have yet to buy any apparel item so far this holiday shopping season, compared to 31.8% last year.

America's Research Group (ARG) questioned shoppers over the weekend, and found that 75.7% expect to finish their Christmas shopping between 20 and 24 December when they hope to cash in on last-minute bargains.

Almost half (49.4%) of American consumers said they went Christmas shopping on the first weekend of December, with 63.0% visiting five stores or less.

"Discount stores are clearly benefiting from the bargain-hunting mentality that is at a high this year," said C. Britt Beemer, founder and Chairman of ARG.

"We see this especially in those shoppers who are waiting for the last moment to get the biggest possible discounts."

The top retailers this past weekend were Wal-Mart with 32.3% of shoppers, Sears with 19.0%, Target with 18.8%, JCPenney with 18.1%, Best Buy 16.5%, and Sam's Club 9.1%.

Disappointment with the bargains being offered was at a high point this year, however, with 42.5% of the shoppers saying the bargains this year are not as good as those in year's past.