Last minute shoppers like Josette Tyne are in luck this year.
With a long weekend before Christmas, retailers want to make it easier for procrastinators to finish their gift buying. Macy’s for the first time is keeping all its stores open around the clock from Friday until Sunday at midnight. Toys “R” Us and Walmart Supercenters will be open non-stop until Christmas Eve.
Even those retailers skipping the all nighter still have added extended hours often as late as 11 pm or midnight. Coupled with a flurry of last minute promotions, they hope to lure shoppers, many of whom have been largely sitting on the sidelines since Black Friday.
Tyne, 33, just starting her shopping this week at Aventura Mall, armed with a list of about two dozen people and the presents they wanted. The list would have been longer if the Fort Lauderdale resident hadn’t limited it to the kids in her family.
“I’ll probably be shopping every day from now till Sunday,” said Tyne, as she wheeled the youngest of her three boys around H&M in a stroller before heading on to Game Stop, Urban Outfitters and BCBG. “Whatever catches my eye. Luckily the kids usually like everything I get. I’m the awesome Auntie.”
A Consumer Reports Poll released earlier this week found that with just five shopping days left until Christmas, a whopping 68 percent of shoppers — a projected 132 million Americans — have yet to finish their holiday shopping.
With an early Thanksgiving leaving an extra week until Christmas and a long weekend before Tuesday’s holiday, shoppers have felt little need to rush. They also haven’t found December deals to be quite as compelling as the November sales.
Based on disappointing sales trends earlier this month, ShopperTrak said Wednesday it was cutting its holiday sales forecast. The company, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country, now expects a 2.5 percent sales increase to $257.7 billion, down from the 3.3 percent growth it initially predicted. The National Retail Federation is sticking with its prediction of a 4.1 percent sales increase.
Online sales trends are more encouraging, up 13 percent to $35 billion from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16, according to comScore, an online research firm. But that pace is below the forecast of 17 percent for the season.
“It’s coming down to the wire,” said David Bassuk, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners, a global consulting firm. “It’s going to require retailers to be more aggressive with their promotions than they were hoping heading into the weekend.”
While the economy is certainly in a better position than it was during the recession, many consumers still feel uneasy this year about their financial future. Some are worried about the U.S. job market and others fear the stalemate between Congress and the White House over federal “fiscal cliff’’ that could lead to tax increases and less disposable income for shoppers.
That was the case for Latonya Jones, on the hunt for bargains at Aventura Mall, coupon-loaded iPad in hand.
“I wasn’t going to buy anything this year, because I wanted to save money,” said Jones, 39, of Miami Gardens, who was shopping with her daughter Richelle, 12, this week in Macy’s. “But then I changed my mind.”
Retailers are hoping to lure shoppers back this weekend with bargains. Walmart is offering $50 off on the new iPhone 5, plus an extra $30 free iTunes gift card with purchase. A holiday super sale at Sports Authority includes an exercise bike for $179.99 and a set of golf clubs for $149.99, plus buy-one-get-one at half price on Nike fleece apparel. Kohl’s is picking up the bill for one lucky customer per store every day until Christmas Eve.
BrandsMart USA’s sales include a 51-inch plasma television for $399 and a LG Blu-Ray player for $48. But shoppers who waited thinking they would get a better deal during the final rush may be disappointed.
“There are not going to be any better deals than they would have gotten last weekend,” said Bobby Johnson, chief operating officer for BrandsMart, whose sales were flat for the year heading into the weekend. “It’s a low-margin category. There is not a lot of room to make deals at the end.”
At apparel retailers everywhere, the markdowns are getting more generous as retailers look to clear out inventory. Teen retailer Aeropostale has slashed prices on everything in its stores by 60 percent. Saks Fifth Avenue is cutting prices on some designer clothing up to 60 percent.
For its first season in South Florida, H&M — which opened recently on Miami Beach and in Aventura — is offering a plethora of discounts like ladies jersey dresses for $10, buy-one-get-one free on winter jewelry, men’s outerwear for $20 and kid’s tops for as low as $3.
“People are definitely still very value and deal conscious,” said Nicole Christie, spokeswoman for H&M. “Once we get the customer, we want to get as much of their shopping done while they’re in our store.”
That’s the advantage of Macy’s extended hours, which leaves it as the only retailer in most shopping malls staying open around the clock. The Macy’s sale started at 7 a.m. Friday and goes 48 hours straight until Sunday morning, but the stores are open until midnight Sunday evening. Before 1 p.m. Saturday, customers will find deals like $199 diamond earrings and a $59.99 five-piece luggage set. But even in the middle of the night, they’ll find $49.99 women’s cashmere sweaters and $19.99 men’s shirts.
“This gives the shoppers the opportunity to get done what they need to get done, when they have the time available,” said Melissa Goff, a Southeast spokeswoman for Macy’s. “Traffic will certainly be lighter between 3 and 5 a.m. It’s a perfect time for someone who doesn’t like crowds.”
Industry experts caution that last minute shoppers may have to make compromises.
“Yes, there are going to be big deals but it may not be on the product the consumer wants,” said Cynthia Cohen, president of Strategic Mindshare, a retail consulting firm with offices in Miami. ““Retailers have tried really hard to manage inventory well. They want gift cards to be spent on fresh goods on December 26th.”
At Walmart in Hialeah Gardens, the iPad Mini and Wii U have both been hard to find. Store manager Arianna Suarez said new shipments will be coming in daily until Christmas Eve. Trucks arrive in the late evening and new products hit the shelves in the wee hours of the morning.
“Every day we get a few, but they sell so fast,” Suarez said. “The could be gone at 3 a.m. or 10 a.m., it depends on how fast people get it. If your children really wants one, it wouldn’t hurt to come to the store really early.”