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Stores hope last-minute Christmas shoppers revive holiday sales

Many retailers, having seen sales drop after a strong Black Friday, roll out steeper discounts in the final days before Christmas.

December 22, 2012|By Shan Li, Los Angeles Times
  • Early-bird shoppers search for deals at a Target in Burbank on Black Friday. Some people, on the other hand, still expect to be shopping for gifts on Christmas Eve.
Early-bird shoppers search for deals at a Target in Burbank on Black Friday.… (Bethany Mollenkof, Los…)

With three days left until Christmas, last-minute shoppers are surging into malls in a mad dash for gifts as retailers extend store hours and trot out steep discounts in a final holiday-season push.

Merchants are hoping procrastinators will give them a boost this weekend. Many stores saw a worrying drop in sales in recent weeks after a robust start on Black Friday. Several are rolling out promotions as they try to make up for lost steam.

Toys R Us stores nationwide began an 88-hour, all-day-all-night marathon Friday that continues until 10 p.m. Christmas Eve. Macy's is welcoming shoppers for 48 straight hours at most of its stores on this final weekend before Christmas. Target is staying open until midnight Sunday.

At the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles' Fairfax district, shoppers swarmed the stores and cars jammed the parking lots. Christmas carols blasted from speakers. And fake reindeer and a sleigh arced overhead.

"The panic is coming in waves," sighed Angie Hill, 44, of Huntington Beach. "I've barely just started. There's still a lot of people left to buy gifts for."

The marketing director said she normally starts shopping weeks before Christmas, but a new job left her with little free time. She pointed to bags holding a magic kit for her son and exercise clothes for her husband — the very first gifts she had bought for the big day. "My shopping list is getting bigger every minute."

She's not alone. Two-thirds of Americans — 132 million people — haven't yet finished their holiday shopping, according to a survey released this week by Consumer Reports. About 14% have yet to start buying gifts, and 9% — or 17 million people — will still be rushing to cross items off their Christmas lists on Christmas Eve.

"People are very focused. They have their list and it's bam, bam, bam! They are trying to check off what they need, get in and get out," said Kim Freeburn, a district vice president of Macy's stores. "It's an intense customer this weekend."

Both the Grove and the Americana at Brand shopping mall in Glendale have been besieged with shoppers over the last few weeks and expect a similar surge in the last few days before Christmas, said Paul Kurzawa, chief operating officer of Caruso Affiliated, which owns both shopping centers.

"The last few weeks have been phenomenal, and this weekend is a continuation of that as people rush in for last-minute gift buying," he said. "You have the last weekend and you get an extra bite on Monday as well."

So far, the average American has spent $340 on presents, the Consumer Reports survey said. An earlier report from Gallup found that shoppers planned to shell out $770 apiece for the holiday. The National Retail Federation predicted total holiday spending of $586.1 billion this year, up 4.1% from last year. It's a crucial time for merchants, which can make up to 40% of their annual sales during the season.

"Holiday sales have been off for weeks," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group. He blamed a lack of exciting merchandise and a hyped-up Black Friday that may have pulled sales earlier into the season. "The bad news is this year will be based on price more than merchandise, as consumers have been groomed to wait to be rewarded with better discounts."

CeCe Solorzano, 30, says she always waits until the weekend before Christmas to scoop up the best discounts.

"I'm going to shop all day tomorrow and the weekend. Hopefully I'll be done on the 24th of December," said the Santa Clarita marketing specialist, who has to find presents for a dozen friends and family members. "I've really waited until the last possible moment this year, but the longer you wait, the better the deals."

Target just rolled out its "Last Minute Sale" that will run until Christmas Eve and is focused on popular gadgets and toys such as iPod Nanos and Easy-Bake Ovens.

"We see those last-minute panicked guests" but also shoppers buying treats for themselves, spokeswoman Donna Egan said. "We try to accommodate the surge of guests, procrastinators or not."

At the Best Buy store in Westfield Culver City, there will be one cash register on Christmas Eve dedicated just to buying gift cards, general manager Margie Kenney said. "It's a huge day for gift cards," she said. "Everything is out of stock, so you're like, 'Give me a gift card.'"

Unless shoppers this weekend go over the top, it's shaping up to be a modest holiday season, said Kamalesh Rao, director of economic research at MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

"That's in keeping with retail sales growth this year," he said. "There is a possibility if you have a strong weekend it could make up a little bit, since the last couple of days is pretty important, especially for sectors like jewelry."

Expect to see Christian Moreno, 43, and his wife, Hilda, out at the malls every day until Dec. 25. Between their two families, the couple have 34 people to shop for every year.

"We're a huge family," said Moreno, who works as a superintendent at the L.A. and Ontario international airports. "It's a lot of presents left to find."

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