- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

A growing number of the gifts under the Christmas tree or around the Hanukkah menorah today were likely bought in the past few days.

No more than half of shoppers had every item on their list scratched off by last weekend, according to retail groups, meaning half of shopping was completed this week, culminating yesterday.

Shoppers flooded area malls, some just starting their list and other finding last-minute gifts.

Jack Matthews, 53, started his shopping three days ago. By noon yesterday he was carting an IPod nano, and Play Station II accessories and clothes for his 11-year-old daughter around Westfield Montgomery shopping center in Bethesda.

Men are more likely than women to start their shopping at the last minute, according to analysts and retail lore.

“We’re kind of notorious for this sort of thing,” said Mr. Matthews, a New Zealander vacationing in the D.C. area.

As of last weekend, 18 percent of men hadn’t started shopping yet, compared with about 12 percent of women, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, a D.C. trade group.

David Pratt, 22, was one of the male procrastinators. The Potomac resident started his holiday shopping yesterday morning and, by noon, had purchased headphones, a sweatshirt, shoes and cologne for family members.

“I’m not a huge shopper,” Mr. Pratt said of why he waited until the last minute. “I don’t do the whole mall thing. I’ve lived here my whole life and I don’t know my way around [this mall].”

Not that last-minute ladies were nonexistent. Caitlin O’Connor, 22, spent about $600 yesterday in Ann Taylor, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret and J.Crew to cross every name off her shopping list, a task she started last weekend.

“I should have started earlier, but it usually ends up this way,” said Miss O’Connor as she rearranged the shopping bags hanging off her arms.

The Saturday before Christmas is typically one of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season.

But this year’s calendar — which made Christmas Eve a Saturday — jumbled the shopping calendar and will likely mean that Friday or last Saturday were the busiest shopping days, said Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York trade group.

Shoppers are expected to return to the malls tomorrow with a vengeance to return items, cash in gift cards and take advantage of after-Christmas sales, Mrs. Duker said. Dec. 26 is typically among the year’s 10 busiest shopping days.

Whether they enjoy shopping or not, Americans were expected to spend $439.53 billion on holiday gifts this year, a 6 percent increase over 2004, according to the National Retail Federation.

According to the ICSC, only 26 percent of consumers had completed their holiday shopping last weekend. The American Research Group, a Charleston, S.C., business development firm, found that 51 percent of shoppers were done, down from 65 percent done at this point in 2004.

MasterCard’s study of transactions during previous holidays found that 1 to 2 p.m. yesterday was expected to be the busiest hour of the holiday shopping season, according to the credit card provider.

True to the prediction, the lines to visit Santa Claus or get presents wrapped inched longer and longer as the day progressed at Westfield.

“It’s a typical Christmas Eve,” said Louise Gordon-Radics, spokeswoman for the shopping center. “We expect that the last couple hours there will be a real push.”

Some shoppers like the frenzy of finding the perfect gift as the clock ticks closer to Christmas Day and the start of Hanukkah.

“It wouldn’t be Christmas unless I’m here on Christmas Eve,” Dinora Collins, 50, said yesterday. “Even if I’m done [shopping], I want to come and look around.”

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