It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and a lot of people don't have all their gifts under the tree. More than half of adults in the United States expected to have completed their shopping by Dec. 20, but many will still be looking for gifts on Christmas Eve and 5% will not be done in time for Christmas Day, according to a new survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

The survey found that 53% of consumers -- about 126 million people -- plan to shop this weekend on "Super Saturday," the last Saturday before Christmas. That number clearly includes some shoppers not looking for Christmas gifts because it's higher than the 45% of shoppers who said they planned to have Christmas shopping unfinished after Dec. 20. 

"Even though many consumers got a head start with holiday shopping early in the season, millions more are leaving their gift buying to the last minute and beyond," NRF CEO Matthew Shay said in a press release. "Stores will be packed the next few days as consumers rush to complete their shopping, and anybody ordering online at this point should probably choose in-store pickup as their delivery option."

A woman holds her phone and shopping bags.

Some holiday shoppers wait until the last minute. Image source: Getty Images.

Why are people waiting? Where are they going?

People who have completed half or less of their holiday shopping have a variety of reasons for the delay. Forty-two percent said they were still deciding what to buy while 26% blame other financial priorities and being busy for the procrastination.

Most last-minute shoppers (51%) plan to finish their shopping at least partly online. That does not mean stores will be empty. Department stores are expected to be the busiest, attracting 41% of late shoppers, followed by discount stores (26%), clothing or accessories stores (21%), electronics stores (18%), local/small businesses (14%), and grocery/supermarket stores (14%).

For the people who won't be making the deadline, those on their gift lists may not be ignored. About half (47%) of those who aren't finished shopping by Dec. 25 say they plan to hit after-Christmas sales in stores while 46% say they plan to do the same online.

The survey, which was conduced Dec. 4-12 involved asking 7,212 U.S. consumers about their holiday shopping plans. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2%.

Better late than never

The holiday shopping season has gotten longer, making it less clear when the best time to shop is. Consumers hitting stores over the pre-Christmas weekend should find some good deals, but they will also find less selection and that some popular items have sold out.

Online shopping and the the ability to send digital gift cards makes it possible to shop until the literal last minute. That means the days of last-minute gift buyers hitting a 7-11 to get everyone beef jerky or a 12-pack are largely over. Still, if it's the thought that counts, sending a digital gift card from your phone that was clearly ordered during Christmas dinner fails to count for much.