last-minute holiday shopping, last-minute deals
Gregory Bull/AP

Last-Minute Shoppers Benefit From Retailers’ Holiday Woes

December 24, 2008 11:01 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Those who have procrastinated on their holiday shopping are not alone, and may be in a good position to take advantage of deals from desperate retailers.

Midnight Shopping a Sign of Troubled Economic Times

More than 41 million Americans had not even started shopping for the holidays as of Tuesday, according to the National Retail Federation in a survey, which also found that men were most guilty of putting off their shopping.

This year, shoppers were shortchanged by the fact that there are five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas than normal. “The shorter window between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year means that the holidays have snuck up on many of us,” said National Retail Federation CEO Tracy Mullin.

Retailers are making the most of the situation, and trying to salvage what sales they can in a dismal economy, with special discounts and promotions and extended store hours.

Macy’s, Old Navy, Toys ‘R’ Us and TJ Maxx are just a few of the retailers that are opening earlier and closing later during the final days leading up to Christmas. But some say that desperate retailers won’t be able to convince budget-conscious shoppers to let go of their cash in this economy. “It doesn’t matter if it closes at six or midnight,” said Anne Hoffman to MSNBC. “No one’s really shopping this year, so I just don’t see the point.”

The holiday shopping season is crucial for retailers, as it makes up about 40 percent of annual profits, but this year is sorely lacking in holiday cheer so far.

“The question that we are really trying to answer is how bad was the season,” said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, to the Associated Press. He is predicting that this holiday season will turn out to be the worst since at least 1969, with sales down 1.5 percent to 2 percent for November and December.

Many predict that budget-conscious American shoppers will not show up for last-minute holiday shopping promotions, but consumer behavior can be hard to gauge. An article in November by The New York Times found that Americans were having difficulty adjusting their budgets to the recent financial woes. People are more conscious of their budgets, but also confused about how best to save money. Some may decide that the best way to save is to take advantage of holiday sales.

Where to Find Last-Minute Bargains

For those who are still out there fighting holiday crowds, and looking for the best shopping deals, several publications have tips.

U.S. News & World Report reminds shoppers that retailers are desperate, meaning that they should be able to score deep discounts. Comparison shopping is key, and negotiation is not out of the question at stores willing to match competitors’ prices. Online retailers are offering large discounts as well, and many are including free express shipping as an added enticement.

The Alexandria Times offers some tips for the last-minute shopper, focusing on types of stores you may not have thought of as good sources of gifts. Specifically, it says that grocery stores can be a good place to find gourmet items such as premium-brand coffee, wines, chocolate and holiday cheese and meat samples. Big hardware stores often carry gourmet kitchen appliances such as espresso machines, in addition to tools. And if you are really desperate, your local 24-hour CVS drugstore can offer small items or stocking stuffers such as makeup, electronics, candy and cards.

Background: Black Friday a disappointing kickoff to holiday shopping

The post-Thanksgiving shopping season already had retailers feeling antsy, as they tried to make up for a slow November with steep discounts of up to as much as 70 percent. Retail and electronic sales were 19 percent lower than the same period last year for the first half of November, according to information service Spendingpulse.

Black Friday took a tragic turn when a man was trampled and crushed to death at a Wal-Mart in Long Island, N.Y. Wal-Mart employee Jdimytai Damour, 34, died on Nov. 28 while trying to control a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers that had showed up for Black Friday discounts. His family is suing the retailer for creating a “crowd craze” and not providing enough security.

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