It’s crunch time for last-minute holiday shoppers
Hubble Smith / Las Vegas Review-Journal
It’s crunch time in the holiday shopping season, time to check your list twice and make one final drive to department stores and malls for those last-minute gifts.
“There’s a lot of shopping that hasn’t been done yet because of the weather,” he said. “We’re not used to bad weather. We don’t venture out in it much and that’s why the last few days will be crazy.”
Nearly one-third of consumers (32.4 percent) were expected to have their holiday shopping done by Dec. 18, but 11.9 percent said they wouldn’t be finished until Christmas Eve, according to a survey conducted by BIGresearch for Washington, D.C.-based National Retail Federation.
Men admitted to having completed slightly less shopping than women at this point.
Russell Thompson didn’t wait until the absolute last minute. He started shopping on a rainy Wednesday afternoon after work. It’s going to take him all night, driving from Best of the West shopping center to the Boulevard and Meadows malls, buying about $600 worth of gifts for his wife, two young sons, sister, brother, mom and dad.
“Hopefully I’ll finish today, probably midnight,” Thompson said. “I just hit Bed, Bath and Beyond and spent $100. I always say I’m going to do it throughout the season and I always do it at the end.”
With Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, retailers continued to promote aggressively in the weekdays leading up to it.
Macy’s offered coupons for $10 off clearance apparel and select home items. Dillard’s is selling Hampshire Studio ladies’ mockneck sweaters for $20, and Total Wine advertised several brands of sparkling wine for under $10.
Shoppers are responding. The National Retail Federation revised its holiday sales figures upward to 3.3 percent, or $451 billion, from the original 2.3 percent estimate.
Macy’s reported a 6.1 percent increase in same-store sales for November and kept 14 stores open around the clock starting Tuesday, though not in Las Vegas.
“It’s well-known that at least half of the shopping that occurs during the holiday season happens during the last few weeks, making the final stretch of utmost importance to retailers,” retail federation president Matthew Shay said.
Retailers are reaching customers through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as iPhone applications that can be downloaded for free.
Of the people who said they used their smartphone to shop this holiday season, more than one-quarter have used the phone to make an actual purchase, BIGresearch found.
Clothes or clothing accessories (43.9 percent) are the biggest sellers. Books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games (38.1 percent) have also been popular. Other top categories include toys (35.3 percent), gift cards (29.9 percent), consumer electronics (21.3 percent), food or candy (20.0 percent) and home decor (15.2 percent).
Larry Harrelson of Pahrump contributed to video game sales. He bought a Donkey Kong Wii game and Scooby Doo Nintendo game at Best Buy for his friend’s 7-year-old boy. It was the first time he’d done any Christmas shopping.
“None, zero. Just this,” the single man said. “I got talked into coming down here. This is it.”
A Best Buy employee said Saturday was the busiest day he’d seen all week, while another store employee who worked last year said it “gets crazy” on Christmas Eve, especially since it’ll be payday for a lot of people this year. Best Buy had six registers open for a line of 20 to 25 customers.
Customer traffic increased about 30 percent this week at Total Wine in Boca Park, manager Jerry Felinczak said. Bottles of Rondel sparkling wine for $7.99 were “flying off the shelves,” he said.
The increase in consumers purchasing gifts for themselves rather than others could skew overall holiday sales numbers, Green said.
“I saw a lot of people out shopping, but where they were surprised me. There were more people in Macy’s than in Target. You know what that says? The department stores are discounting phenomenally. The deals on apparel are just as good as the discounters,” the Phoenix analyst said.
“But I think the biggest surprise of this whole holiday season for me is the fact people are buying apparel for themselves. You see people going in and out of the dressing room. That shows how much pent-up demand there was and the price they were willing to spend on themselves.”
Retail analyst Brian Sozzi of New York-based Wall Street Strategies told the Review-Journal in early December that holiday sales would exceed the National Retail Federation’s original estimate, putting the number at 3.5 percent to 4 percent. He’s backing off that enthusiasm.
“Basically, I think the holiday season is ending on somewhat of a whimper,” Sozzi said. “Consumers spent in November freely, but have been more targeted in December. As a result, we are seeing an increase in promotions and inventory as the peak season draws to a close.”
Sozzi said he saw the “disappearing bag act” during weekend tours of New Jersey malls.
“Nice traffic build from the opening of the mall until early afternoon, but where were the bags?” he asked. “At first, I thought consumers were out browsing to begin the month, hence the missing bag element. Now I wonder, did Black Friday pull holiday sales into November?”
While both are heavy shopping days, Christmas Eve draws a different breed of buyer than Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season.
“Those who get up and brave the cold on Black Friday are usually looking for hot items, not only to buy gifts but to score something for themselves,” said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. “They’re planners, and they map out what they want to buy.”
Shoppers who come out on Christmas Eve, on the other hand, were either waiting for the biggest discounts or they didn’t have the money to spend earlier, she said. Or they just tend to dilly-dally.
While many Black Friday shoppers relish the hunt, last-minute buyers are harried and focused on getting things done.
And true to stereotype, they are mostly men, said Dan Jasper, spokesman for Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
Accordingly, stores push men’s and women’s sweaters in their circulars, while shoes and children’s apparel take a back seat. Jewelry also tends to be a top last-minute gift item, though that category has been strong throughout the season.
Many people who postponed their shopping this year blame busy schedules. The number of hours U.S. workers are putting in at the office each week has been on the upswing since the official end of the recession in June 2009, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That leaves less time for shopping during the week.