Procrastinators hit the malls
December 25, 2006 12:23am CST
(AP) -- Bargain hunters and latecomers flocked to stores on Sunday as the retail industry offered increased discounts and other come-ons the day before Christmas."This is the best time in the world to shop," said Chuck Mingrone of East Haven, Connecticut, as he left a Bath & Body Works store at Milford, Connecticut mall. He said he expects to do all of his holiday shopping in two hours."I do it every year like this," Mingrone continued. "There are no lines and everyone is smiling. Every year, my family makes fun of me for doing this, but they are the ones who are frantic in lines."Others were forced to shop late for lack of time or because they have not been in the mood."I'm shopping late because of working hours," said Regina Robles of Milford. "There's never enough time.""I don't know. Christmas just crept up on me this year," said Aimee Lovan of Des Moines, Iowa, who was also at a mall. "And also the weather. It's been so warm so I haven't been in a Christmas mood."After a disappointing start to December, many stores are again counting on procrastinators in the final days before December 25 -- and post-Christmas business -- to make their holiday sales goals. (Read how mail carriers will not be stopped by blizzard) Mild temperatures throughout most of the country didn't inspire shoppers to buy winter items, like snow boots and gloves. And with Christmas falling on a Monday, the season became another nail biter as shoppers knew they had a full weekend to shop before the holiday. Consumers shopped early for flat-panel TVs, hot toys like T.M.X. Elmo and new consoles such as Sony's Playstation3. But they didn't purchase much apparel, creating a mixed holiday picture. Online business and luxury stores have offered bright spots. But many mall-based apparel chains were challenged by increased competition from department stores such as Federated Department Stores Inc.'s Macy's and J.C. Penney Co., which are benefiting from industry consolidation and fresh fashions. Still, many mall-based stores kept to their promotional calendar throughout the season, refusing to buckle to shoppers' pressure for the best deal. Stores are counting on a post-Christmas sales surge when shoppers, armed with gift cards, return to stores and spend their new-found money freely on new merchandise along with the discounted items. This past weekend, stores slashed prices to tempt shoppers to buy, though Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington, New York, said that most merchants still weren't "panicking."Stores are realizing the holiday season also includes January, he said. But, some stores were pulling out all the stops. Gap Inc., which has been languishing, took additional markdowns on everything from T-shirts to hooded sweatshirts and jean jackets at its namesake stores. Long-sleeve T-shirts were slashed to $9.99, from $24.50 at a Gap store in Manhattan. Those who delayed shopping benefited big. Retired school principal Carol Beck, of Durham, North Carolina, was doing most of her holiday shopping Sunday and finished in about 30 minutes. She said she spent $150 and bought most things at half off. But procrastinating does have risks. Kim Engler of Raleigh, North Carolina, was rushing along with two Abercrombie & Fitch bags at Southpoint mall trying to find certain sizes."I have four children and I'm trying to even up the batches," Engler said. "I'm looking for sizes I couldn't find elsewhere."Christmas Eve shopping isn't one of the busiest shopping days as consumers want to spend time with family. Kathleen Waugh, spokeswoman at Toys "R" Us said this past week was "exceptionally strong, " particularly on Saturday. Meanwhile, a late buying binge online helped online retailers surpass holiday sales forecasts, according to comScore Networks. Online spending from November 1 through Wednesday reached $21.68 billion, marking a 26 percent increase compared to the corresponding year-ago period. The results exclude travel, auctions and corporate purchases. ComScore expected holiday sales to rise 24 percent.