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Last-minute holiday shoppers abound in South Florida

Nate Paulding, a Britto Central inventory supervisor, carries a large painting, titled 'The Hug,' along Lincoln Road for customer Steve Yucht. Yucht, of Gainesville, bought the large painting as a surprise for his wife for the holidays. Shoppers were out along Lincoln Road Tuesday morning, Dec. 23, 2014, getting their last-minute Christmas gifts.
Nate Paulding, a Britto Central inventory supervisor, carries a large painting, titled 'The Hug,' along Lincoln Road for customer Steve Yucht. Yucht, of Gainesville, bought the large painting as a surprise for his wife for the holidays. Shoppers were out along Lincoln Road Tuesday morning, Dec. 23, 2014, getting their last-minute Christmas gifts. Miami Herald Staff

Steve Yucht scurried along Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road Tuesday morning, as Nate Paulding lugged a 7-foot Romero Britto painting, called The Hug, to Yucht’s van.

The bright $1,500 artwork, a Christmas gift for Yucht’s wife Nicole, would be a surprise “for about another 10 minutes” while his wife shopped at nearby Lululemon Athletica, Yucht said.

“I know she loved it, and I know she wanted it, but I had to break away somehow to get it,” said Yucht, 48, of Gainesville, who was in Miami Beach on vacation. “We saw it several days ago, and I told her we had to come back, but I didn’t tell her why.”

For last-minute holiday shoppers like Yucht, it’s crunch time.

Wednesday marks Christmas Eve, when all the lists should be checked off, the presents wrapped and the stockings stuffed. Christmas Day is Thursday, and Hanukkah, with its eight nights of candle-lighting — and often gift-giving — ends at sundown on Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, many South Florida malls and stores expected to remain open until midnight, reopening Wednesday morning for the last shopping gasp that will end at 6 p.m. (A few stores, including Walmart, Toys “R” Us and Target, are open even later.) Kohl’s will have been open non-stop since Dec. 19.

For those who are wary of malls, shopping corridors like Lincoln Road, Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile were promoting their appeal as crowd-less alternatives with online promotions of discounts, holiday menus and free valet parking for big spenders.

Regardless of where they shop, bargain hunters have no need to fear: the deals and discounts that have been particularly bountiful this holiday season show no sign of ending. Many stores have offered sales since Thanksgiving that will continue on Christmas Eve — before the after-Christmas sales begin.

The competition for consumer dollars is fierce during November and December, a key period when retailers can bring in as much as 40 percent of their annual revenue.

This holiday season has been expected to be robust, spurred by an improving economy, rising stock market, job growth and lower gas prices. Nationwide, the National Retail Federation projects that sales in November and December will be up 4.1 percent from last year, to $616.9 billion. But many retailers have reported slower-than-forecast sales and are depending on procrastinators to make up the difference.

In Florida, the forecast has been even brighter: Sales are expected to jump 5 percent, buoyed by tourists and seasonal residents, the Florida Retail Federation said. That's above last year's 4.5 percent prediction and would be the biggest increase since 2008.

Shoppers like Pravin Rajput, who waited in line at the Apple store on Lincoln Road beginning at 7:30 a.m., for its 10 a.m. opening, is among those boosting Florida’s retail economy. Rajput, of Gainesville, was about to cross off two gifts on his list by buying an $800 iPhone 6 for his girlfriend and another for his 14-year-old niece. “Gainesville doesn’t have an Apple store,” said a cheery Rajput, 60.

As the line snaked around the block by 10:45 a.m., Colin Smith, from the United Kingdom, also waited to buy an iPhone 6 — on his second day of vacation. Nearby were other iPhone buyers from Brazil and Romania.

“It’s cheaper here,” said Smith, 53, of Leeds, Yorkshire, who was buying the smart phone for his 12-year-old daughter. “It’s $400 to $500 cheaper.”

Last minute shoppers are not alone.

Fifteen percent of all holiday shoppers wait until the last-minute to buy their gifts, according to a survey by Retale, a location-based mobile app that brings in-store deals and promotions to your phone. According to the survey, 58 percent of all last-minute shoppers use smart phones and tablets to help them shop. Among that group, 88 percent use mobile devices to locate stores and check store hours as they get closer to Christmas Day, the survey showed.

Michael Niemira, a research consultant for the International Council of Shopping Centers said Tuesday that a historically low 11 percent of consumers have yet to start their shopping, “meaning the late shopping surge should continue all the way through Christmas Eve.”

To ease shoppers’ pain — and convince them to visit their stores — many retailers have sent daily email blasts with special offers, like Groupon’s 20 percent discount offer. Stores including Gap, J. Crew and Old Navy have promoted discounts as great as 60 percent. High-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue began major sales ahead of Christmas, while Bloomingdale’s has offered 15 percent or 20 percent or more off most purchases.

Gift cards and online shopping are also geared to last-minute gifters. Best Buy, for instance, is allowing shoppers to order online by 4 p.m. Wednesday for pick up at stores before they close at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

“We know that 60 percent of our customers will utilize in-store pick-up even through closing today,” Best Buy spokeswoman Danielle Schumann said Tuesday afternoon. “And we are excited to help last minute shoppers in the next day or so pick out their gifts.”

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