Holiday shoppers may bypass breached retailers

Like it or not, the annual holiday shopping season is nearly upon us. It's an economically vital time for many retailers, which can make 20 percent to 40 percent of their annual sales during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

This year's holiday shopping is expected to show a slight improvement over 2013's given a generally stronger economy. According to the National Retail Federation's Holiday Consumer Spending Survey, the average shopper will shell out around $804 this holiday season, up nearly 5 percent compared to last year.

However, one additional variable this year is consumer concerns over recent data breaches at several major retailers, including Target (TGT), Home Depot (HD) and Neiman Marcus.

According to a new report from CreditCards.com, nearly half of major credit and debit card holders say will "definitely" or "probably not" shop at retailers that had suffered a data breach, even if they had patronized those stores in the past.

CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz said on the surface, his company's study doesn't appear to bode well for stores that have been the victims of online hackers.

However, he noted, there's a bright spot for retailers in that high-income shoppers are the least likely to avoid the affected stores, and that women are more likely to continue shopping at those stores compared to men.

"In terms of safety and protection from a data breach, if you're going to use plastic, credit is the way to go because of consumer protections," Schulz told CBS MoneyWatch.

"With a credit card, if there's a fraudulent charge, you simply call the bank. It's generally pretty easy to get it waived, and there's no money out of your pocket," he continued.

Schulz said the same zero-liability policies are also in place with many debit cards, although with debit card fraud, several weeks can go by before your money is replaced. "That's real money that can have an impact on somebody who's living paycheck to paycheck," he noted.

And as devastating as those data breaches were to the retailers and consumers involved, Schulz noted they've also brought about some positive changes, including a faster national transition to the EMV, or "smart-chip," cards that better protect the consumer's personal information.

Another factor that has sped up the switch to EMV cards is the so-called "liability shift," an announcement by several major credit card companies that as of October 2015, any retailers and banks that don't have the EMV cards will find themselves financially liable for credit card fraud that could have been prevented with the smart-chip technology.

"If you're concerned about shopping at a store" said Schulz, "the safest thing that you can do, other than using cash, is to use your credit card -- because of the consumer protections that come along with it."