- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

If you’ve put off your holiday shopping, you might be in luck.

Retailers have cut prices to spur last-minute spending during the final full shopping weekend of the season. Eight days are left before Christmas and the start of Hanukkah.

Stores such as Sears, Macy’s and Filene’s Basement are holding hours-long sales today, as they did on the day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

Department stores are opening early — most at 7 a.m., not quite as early as they did to start the season, when some opened at 5 a.m. — and advertising sales of 10 percent to 70 percent off.

Discounters Kmart, Wal-Mart and Target are trumpeting sales, too. Kmart is advertising 40 percent off wrapping paper and holiday decor and 50 percent off shirts and sweaters through Monday. KB Toys, too, is advertising up to 65 percent off toys in a sale ending Monday.

About 30 percent of holiday sales are made during the last 10 days before Christmas, said Patrice Duker, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York trade group.

This season is shaping up like most, starting with big markdowns and positive sales in the beginning of the season, then a little lull and a new jump about 10 days before Christmas, Mrs. Duker said.

“We’ll see some aggressive discounts this weekend because of the proximity to the end of the season,” she said.

For most retailers, this weekend’s sales were planned months ago.

“By and large, retailers are sticking with their planned markdowns; they’re not getting desperate,” said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

Retail sales rose 3.2 percent last week from the week ending Dec. 3, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. The group found that only 13 percent of households have finished their shopping.

In November, sales rose 7.4 percent from a year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation. It is in line with the District trade group’s forecast of a 6 percent jump in sales this season.

“When all is said and done, the season is on track to be a moderate one for retailers,” Mrs. Duker said. “Some folks will do well, some maybe a little softer than last year.”

Most area malls are starting their extended hours today, though some started last weekend. Fashion Center at Pentagon City, Westfield Montgomery, Springfield Mall and Potomac Mills will be open until 11 p.m. today. Dulles Town Center is open until midnight.

Outside of the crowded malls, many free online-shipping promotions ended this week, capping a season in which about three-quarters of online retailers, including Amazon.com and LLBean.com offered the free service, according to a study by consulting company Forrester Research Inc.

Online shoppers spent $3.6 billion on Visa credit and debit cards last week, up 33 percent from last year, according to Visa’s weekly tracking numbers.



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