- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

One of Craig Moon’s holiday traditions is saving nearly all of his shopping for Christmas Eve.

This year was no different. His plan: Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, Landmark Mall, Tysons Corner Center, Fair Oaks Mall. Five persons, plus some “impulse shopping.” Done by 6 p.m. Wrapping done by 9 p.m.

“It’s the best time to shop,” said Mr. Moon, 46, at Pentagon City early in the day yesterday. “I’ll fill the car up, go home and wrap. It’s over in one day.”

The Saturday before Christmas is typically the busiest shopping day of the year. But this year, with Christmas falling on a Monday, shoppers who waited until the very last minute also had all day on Christmas Eve — a Sunday — to shop, too.

That may have prompted shoppers to procrastinate a little longer than in previous years.

“With Christmas on Monday, I had the whole weekend to think about shopping,” said Chris Bowie, 33, of the District, who finished up his shopping early yesterday morning at Pentagon City.

As of a week ago, only 11 percent of consumers had finished shopping and another 15 percent hadn’t even started, according to a survey by BIGresearch for the National Retail Federation, a Washington-based trade group.

Twins Maggie and Elisa Conteh, 22, were two of those procrastinators.

“We always go at the last minute,” said Maggie, who knew exactly what she was getting the six persons on her list. “If we wake up super early, it’s empty.”

Early in the day, both Pentagon City, in Arlington, and White Flint, in North Bethesda, looked as quiet as a weekday morning.

Mall employees stood at the entrances of their shops, looking for customers. Volunteer gift wrappers milled around chatting, waiting for bows to tie.

“I can’t stand crowds. This is perfect for me,” said Kevin, a Pentagon City shopper who declined to give his last name.

He was hoping to find some boots to put under the tree for his wife.

“I won’t find the right ones,” he said. “She’ll smile, say they don’t fit, she doesn’t like them. But they’ll be there.”

Predictably, men are more likely than women to wait until the last minute. About 18 percent of men had not started shopping as of a week ago, while 13 percent of women had not started, according to the National Retail Federation.

But procrastinating shoppers were greeted by retailers with open arms and big discounts. “Sale” signs hung in many store windows, with promises of up to 50 percent off.

For retailers, the weekend was the final push to boost sales during the important holiday-shopping season. About 20 percent to 25 percent of retailers’ annual sales are made during November and December.

The International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York trade group, expects November and December sales to climb 2.5 percent to 3 percent at chain stores open at least one year, an important indicator of a retailer’s success.

The National Retail Federation expects November and December sales to climb 5 percent to $457.4 billion.

But it wasn’t a sale that made Mark Tropea, of Chevy Chase, into a Christmas Eve shopper this year. It was a new baby boy.

Most years, he doesn’t procrastinate, but this year, he didn’t have the time to shop earlier.

“I just know what I need and go,” he said at White Flint, with five bags slung over his shoulder and more shopping to do.

But amid all the procrastinators were some shoppers getting an early start on post-Christmas shopping.

Stephanie Griffiths, 48, was at White Flint hoping to spend her Borders gift cards she just received as gifts. She walked the mall at a leisurely pace, in stark contrast with the shoppers who clearly didn’t have time to spare.

“When you have stuff done, you don’t have a mission,” she said. “I’m just window-shopping.”

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