NEWS

Procrastinators unite! Plenty of last-minute shoppers will join you this weekend

G. Patrick Kelly and Fellicia Smith

Haven’t done any Christmas shopping? Or did you go out in the mad rush of Black Friday, but still have a lot left to find?

You’re not alone. If you plan to do your shopping this weekend, be ready for plenty of company, according to local and national retail experts.

“I haven’t done anything,” said Kathy Dasco, who began her holiday shopping with a stop at Target on Dressler Road NW in Jackson Township on Monday afternoon. “There is no tree up. The stockings aren’t hung by the tree with care.  ... I usually don’t wait this long. I’m better than this.”

In no hurry

Four percent of all shoppers wait until the last two weeks of December to begin their holiday shopping, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2006 holiday research results.

“I’m one of those 4 percent,” Jane Zito of Jackson Township said Monday as she sought electronic gifts at Best Buy. “I only started Christmas shopping three days ago. I just got busy and the next thing I know, it’s Christmas.”

Dasco and Zito aren’t the only last-minute shoppers in the aisles.

“I think a lot of people wait till the last minute,” said Jennifer Crozier, an executive team leader at the Jackson Township Target. “I think they’ll come in on the weekend real quick to see what deals we have. I think shoppers begin to feel the real spirit of Christmas then.”

Shopping for Christmas gifts with the big day just around the corner is nothing new to Massillon resident Karla Gowins.

“This is the first time I’m not shopping on Christmas Eve,” she said as she held a handful of gifts at Target. “This is my first day of Christmas shopping. I’m shopping for about 10 people. I’m bright and early this year.”

The holiday shopping season started off big but quickly cooled.

“Black Friday’s sales came in so strong that the pace was clearly not sustainable,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors, the consulting and service arm of the credit-card company.

Sales in the Midwest were hurt by bad weather in early December, McNamara said.  Added to that, Saturday afternoon’s snowstorm kept many Stark County shoppers home. Store and restaurant managers were dismayed at the lack of crowds on what is normally a busy night.

“It definitely scared people away,” said Aron Kitzmiller, director of marketing for Westfield Belden Village. “There was a lot of people in the morning.” Bad weather on Sunday also kept shoppers away, he said.

Big days still coming

But ShopperTrak --  a retail industry authority for information and analysis of shopper traffic -- and Kitzmiller both see a big weekend coming.

ShopperTrak’s RCT Corp.’s National Retail Sales Estimate picks as the busiest shopping days yet to come as (with rank in parentheses): Saturday (2); Friday (4); and, Sunday (5). Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- was ranked first, as usual, and the day after Christmas is ranked third.

“Saturday and Sunday, we’re going to see a huge number of people,” Kitzmiller said. Things began getting busy again Monday and Tuesday, and Kitzmiller predicts the weekend numbers won’t be that far off Thanksgiving weekend.

“Our retailers are expecting that and they need it after the weather we’ve had,” he said. Another factor slowing things is a spread-out shopping season, with an extra weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said.

But overall, the mall’s retailers are pleased with results so far, and realize the economy has put constraints on shoppers.

MasterCard’s McNamara said the average cost of a gallon of gasoline is up by about 32 percent over the same period in 2006. “Our spending data suggests that high gas prices and oil costs have had an impact on discretionary spending.”

According to what MasterCard is seeing on its payments network for the first 20  shopping days after Thanksgiving, “The sectors have settled into some clear winners as well as some under performers,” McNamara said.

Specialty apparel was up 0.5 percent and men’s apparel was up 4.5 percent, but women’s apparel was down 5.7 percent. McNamara said. Electronics sales opened big on Black Friday weekend, up 15 percent from last year, but sales growth slowed. In the 20 days after Thanksgiving, consumer spending on electronics grew by only 5.8 percent over the same period a year ago.

Internet shopping is up 29.8 percent over the first 20 days of the season, with much of the increase in high-end items.

Late shopping tips

--  Even though you are shopping at the last minute, it doesn’t mean that you will exceed your budget. Set a spending limit and stick to it.

-- You won’t have much time for browsing, so make a list of all the people you want to buy for and likely gifts.

-- Before shopping, pick up the newspaper to get an idea about sales.

-- Browse the Internet before going to the stores. You may get some great bargains.

-- It’s better to first go to the large stores, which offer everything under -- single roof.

-- Don’t forget to visit discount stores where you might get extremely good deals.

-- Shopping in the daytime may help avoid getting crushed by people.

-- During the final days before Christmas, the crowd gets pretty unruly. Thwart pickpockets by leaving excess cash, credit cards and other valuables at home.

-- If you are planning to buy clothes for someone, have measurements and sizes.

-- If you are purchasing electronic items, read the warranty and replacement information.

-- Since you will be shopping for a long time, wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Avoid clutch or oversized handbags.

Source: WorldofChristmas.net