- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Tom Heaney was one of those last-minute shoppers on whom retailers were counting to boost sales at the end of the holiday season.

The Christmas Eve regular hit Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery yesterday at 7:30 a.m., a half-hour after the Bethesda mall opened.

Without a list, the Gaithersburg resident said he had no trouble finding the 14 gifts he bought. By 11:30 a.m., he was having each one wrapped at the mall’s charity gift-wrap counter.

“It’s a routine,” said Mr. Heaney, who was at the same gift-wrap counter about the same time last year. “It’s a religion.”

Mr. Heaney was not alone yesterday as determined shoppers flocked to malls and stores to finish their holiday gift buying. About 16 percent of consumers said they would finish their shopping Christmas Eve, according to the American Express Retail Index.

Stores such as J.C. Penney, Kohl’s and Target kept their doors opened until 6 p.m., and other retailers slashed prices to entice shoppers.

For the ultimate last-minute shopper, Wal-Mart and Target are advertising gift cards on their Web sites that can be e-mailed to recipients. Sears, Roebuck & Co. is offering to send e-mail messages that gifts bought online are on the way.

Between heading to malls and traveling home for the holidays, Washington-area roads were packed with drivers on a rainy Christmas Eve, causing backups on and around the Beltway.

Yesterday morning, a steady stream of cars piled into Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery’s parking garages. By midmorning, nearly 20 people stood in line at the Sam Goody music store, while other shoppers mulled over the scattered Christmas cards left at a Hallmark store.

Some festive shoppers, decked out in Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, walked through the mall in search of special holiday sales.

Retailers refrained from heavy discounting earlier in the season since inventories were low this year. But many stores gave in this last week to satisfy consumers who wait for last-minute deals.

After a strong start Thanksgiving weekend, retailers reported modest sales gains this season. Wal-Mart, Best Buy Co. and Target said December sales are below their expectations.

Retailers have been relying on the final week before Christmas to boost sales. Last year, the week before Christmas accounted for 41 percent of sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) reported.

Shoppers at the Target in Greenbelt yesterday were clustered in the toy, electronics and holiday-decor aisles, but the crowds had all but disappeared by the afternoon.

Greenbelt resident Janet Smith said she was relieved to find all the toys she needed for her seven grandchildren as she put two rolls of wrapping paper into a cart crammed with board games, Care Bears, dolls and cars.

“I don’t normally do this, but I’m really surprised at how easy it’s been today,” Mrs. Smith said, adding that she is spending an extra $200 on gifts this year.

Carleta Bassett helped her procrastinating husband, Andre, pick up gifts for family and friends. The Washington couple said they spent less on gifts this year, mainly because they shopped on days they expected to find more sales.

“Some of the gifts we’re getting on clearance because we waited this long,” like pajama sets on sale at Target for $10, Mrs. Bassett said.

Others say they added more gift recipients to their list this year to make up for the last two subdued Christmas celebrations.

“We had quite a few more people on our list,” said Hyattsville resident Jackie Argueta. She spent about $300 more than her usual $600 budget this season.

Next door at the Marshalls discount clothing store, Christmas Eve veteran shopper Laura Strobel strolled through the lanes of the home-decor section at the back of the store virtually unimpeded.

Most of the last-minute patrons were browsing through perfume, gift sets and jewelry collections at the front of the store.

“I think the Internet has had a big impact on shopping this year, because it’s usually more crowded by this time,” at 12:05 p.m., the Berwyn Heights resident said.

Online retail sales have jumped 26 percent to $4.8 billion from Thanksgiving to Dec. 14, compared with a year earlier, according to ComScore Networks Inc.

Retailers are expecting this next week to play a critical role in their overall holiday sales. Shoppers will begin tomorrow to take advantage of end-of-season discounts and redeem gift cards, which are expected to make up about 8 percent of all holiday sales.

Last year, the week after Christmas accounted for 11.8 percent of sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The National Retail Federation has projected $217.4 billion in holiday sales — a 5.7 percent increase over last year.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide