Holiday 2003 retail sales were driven by adults aged 18-34, males, African Americans and Hispanics according to a new report, adding that this season also saw a significant decline in department store spending.

The findings of Meridian's 2003 National Shopping Behavior Study showed that the most affluent consumers are the least satisfied.

They continue to spend less in department stores because they can't find what they want, and in the past four years the percentage of consumers naming department stores as the place they spent the most has declined from 15 per cent to 11 per cent.

They are moving to mid-line retailers like Kohl's and Penney's for their basic apparel and home furnishings and to catalogues and the Internet to find the items they want.

Additionally, price is becoming the primary reason for customers to shop at a department store. Price has increased as the major driver of patronage from 23 per cent in 2000 to 38 per cent this year.

The consumer groups supporting the department stores are also changing. In this year's Meridian study, 11 per cent of Caucasians, 15 per cent of Hispanics and 18 per cent of African Americans reported spending the most at a department store.

Data from the study indicates that African American and Hispanic consumer groups now account for 25-30 per cent of department store sales. So department stores should make changes to their assortments and size, colour and fit strategies to effectively accommodate their new customers.

The study also found that consumers with incomes under $50,000 are moving share of wallet from mass merchants to mid-line stores like Penney's and Kohl's; consumers with incomes from $50,000 to $75,000 are moving from department stores to mid-line and specialty stores; and consumers with incomes over $75, 000 are moving to catalogues, Internet and specialty stores.