- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 26, 2004

The nation’s retailers yesterday welcomed shoppers with more steep discounts, hoping to follow an apparent mediocre Christmas shopping season with a strong post-holiday sales blitz.

Dec. 26 traditionally is one of the busiest days of the year for retailers, but merchants said foot traffic at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall was thin.

“It’s extremely quiet. Last year was much better,” said Carmen Ghaazizadah, who was staffing the Taxco Sterling Co. kiosk at the mall.

Many Washington-area shoppers hunted for bargains, redeemed gift cards and returned unwanted or ill-fitting Christmas presents yesterday.

Merchants offered steep discounts as they tried to lure customers and boost bottom lines for holiday retail sales, though the effort may not have been enough to turn the day after Christmas into a banner sales day.

“I was just telling my daughter, it’s empty,” said Alesia Williams, a D.C. resident making some returns and redeeming gift cards on bargains at Macy’s, Hecht’s and Old Navy. Mrs. Williams and her daughter, Courtney Griffin, started shopping at 6:30 a.m. and planned to press on until about 2 p.m.

November and December account for almost one-quarter of annual retail sales, according to the National Retail Federation, making it a make-or-break season for many stores.

The Washington-based trade group projected nationwide holiday retail sales would hit $219.9 billion, a 4.5 percent increase over last year.

The season had been so-so, with online shopping and sales at luxury stores two bright spots among otherwise lackluster sales reports. Many shoppers apparently held off making purchases, though, and this year’s holiday shopping began to pick up right before Christmas, with many taking advantage of a federal holiday Friday to do last-minute shopping.

The retail federation estimated that the week before Christmas would account for up to 20 percent of holiday sales, and the week after would account for about 10 percent.

Last year, Dec. 26 was the third-busiest shopping day of the year, after the day after Thanksgiving known as “Black Friday,” and the Saturday before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The council projected that Centers.

The council projected that one in five consumers would shop yesterday, adding to their holiday haul and retailers’ bottom lines.

Almost every store in the Fashion Centre had sale signs in windows and above merchandise racks, some showing discounts as high as 70 percent. Macy’s advertised 10 percent to 65 percent off regular prices, Nordstrom up to 60 percent.

“I know a bargain when I see one,” said Ida Fletcher, an Upper Marlboro resident who sat in the Pentagon City mall with full Crate & Barrel shopping bags. Mrs. Fletcher started her day at 8 a.m. and by noon was getting ready to head to outlet stores in Leesburg, Va.

Retailers also hope that consumers cash in gift cards. The National Retail Federation estimated that consumers would spend $17.34 billion on the pocket-sized presents, a $100 million increase from last year.

Retailers don’t count a gift card as a sale until it is redeemed, so much of the money spent on the cards won’t be counted toward November and December holiday sales. But some shoppers yesterday were doing their best to boost retail figures.

“We spent an hour in Williams-Sonoma and we got a lot of little stuff,” said Mike Jason, a D.C. resident redeeming gift cards from the high-end kitchen store and from Banana Republic with his wife, Julie.

“I don’t know if we would have shopped like that otherwise,” Mr. Jason said.

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