Retailers count on procrastinators, discounts to drive up Christmas sales

Posted December 24, 2007
Updated November 18, 2008

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— Triangle shoppers – taking advantage of deep discounts and expanded hours – jammed stores over the last weekend before Christmas trying to grab last-minute gifts and hard-to-find items. But the spending surge may not be enough to offset what is shaping up to be a mediocre December for some retailers.

Retailers faced particular hurdles in getting shoppers through the doors this holiday season: high gas prices, a suffering housing market and overall challenging economy.

"I think that's affecting the psychology of the consumer," Dr. Mike Walden, an economists with North Carolina State University, said. "Consumer confidence is down, and I think there is a lot of evidence the economy is slowing down."

The National Retail Federation projected that holiday sales will fall below the 10-year average and be the slowest since 2002.

In the Triangle, last-minute Christmas shoppers were getting deep discounts on final presents and stocking stuffers but said they were surprised at the lack of crowds.

"This is not bad at all," said Phil Myers, who was shopping at Crabtree Valley Mall with his wife, Lisa. "I mean, it was easy to park, and there's not a lot of people. Now, it will probably get more crowded after lunch."

Mark Pitney, 62, said he has seen a lot more markdowns this year. He did some last-minute shopping at a J.C. Penney in Raleigh, where he had staff pull the last medium-sized sweater off a mannequin. The item was discounted 60 percent.

"You can get some serious discounts, and I took advantage of them," shopper Henry Vanderbilt Johnson said.

Retailers said the discounts appeared to be doing their job, and helping the Triangle buck a national slowdown in sales.

J.C. Penney district manager John Graber said despite concerns about the economy, this year's Christmas shopping traffic has appeared stronger than last year.

"We are very encouraged by the traffic. We are very encouraged by the sales today. So far, so good," Travis Groome, merchandise coordinator at the Crabtree Belk, said.

N.C. Sports and Gifts saw a good amount of traffic on Christmas Eve, manager Kath Manley said. The store carries lots of stocking stuffers, "so you have people picking up little things," Manley said.

Groome attributed Belk's success to clever marketing strategies. Although the store was not as crowded as on past Christmas Eves, Groome said that was due to expanded hours letting people shop at different times.

Belk also doubled the amount of coupons it offered this year to get people in early, he said.

"It's all about marketing and getting people in the doors if we are going to be here," Groome said.

Johnson represented a segment of the market store managers said they were relying on to boost the number of Christmas Eve shoppers: men. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported that a fifth of men had not started their shopping by last week.

"There's a lot of people like me out there waiting until the last minute," Hoese said. "I don't want to isolate our breed that way, but yeah, mainly men."

"I think most men are serious procrastinators," Johnson said. "Shopping isn't something we enjoy doing."


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  • djofraleigh Dec 24, 2007

    I don't believe it. I believe what I see over what I read in the news.

    The local media thinks this is Detroit or Philadelphia, I guess. People are NOT out shopping to the get mark downs, like they will be Wednesday, but the stores have been full as a the parking lots. The water bills haven’t' gone up yet, and the power company hasn't started a new plant for the new growth quite yet, the toll roads aren't in, the new property tax hasn't hit us yet, and unemployment is down and help wanted ads are full. Where are the hard times except in the PRICE OF GAS?...still plenty of traffic!

    I see excess everywhere: children with very nice bicycles, scooters and four wheelers, teens with cells phones by the drove; young couples with two cars, a new house; established homes getting paid lawn care. All summer I see windows closed with A/C running 24/7, in cars and homes. The malls are little more than fashion stores and they are on every point on the compass.

    These are the good ole days!

  • weasleyes Dec 24, 2007

    Obviously, these reporters were not at the new shopping center in Knightdale nor the WalMart there. Busy, crowded, and it was all week. The media just loves to publish the bad news while leaving out the good. I expected this once WRAL switched to CBS who, BTW, HATES President Bush, and will publish anything to make him look bad, even if it is not true! Anyhow, this is not the appropriate time for politics! Merry Christmas to all!

  • Funky Neighbor LEE Dec 24, 2007

    Walking out of the mall late in the afternoon of Christmas Eve gave me a sad feeling like walking out of the State Fair late on the last night knowing it was going to soon be over and not back for another year.

    You hear Christmas traditions being bemoaned sometimes but as commercial and scripted as some seem at least with this religious holiday you don't have to beat yourself on the back until it's bloody and walk for 40 miles.

    Christmas day begins the very best of the Holiday, the part between getting the present and then receiving the credit card bill in the mail.

    Merry Merry,


  • brian2380 Dec 24, 2007

    Just got back from SouthPoint mall.... not bad at all, of course us guys wait until the last minute. Hey, it works!

  • UpwardlyMobile Dec 24, 2007

    I was just in Wally World and it was not crowded. I haven't seen a lot of folks in the stores this year.

  • anonemoose Dec 24, 2007

    And I bet Wednesdays headline will be.................

    THOUSANDS FLOCK TO STORES FOR AFTER HOLIDAY (you know they won't say Christmas) SALES!!!

    Now am I good, or what?

  • wbearp Dec 24, 2007

    I am so tired of it all. In the USA it has become all about the dollar. With all the retailers wanting to bleed us dry, I have no doubt if the current trends continue you will see Christmas decorations up all year in some stores.


  • Tidbit Dec 24, 2007

    One person interviewed said "I used to just take their (her children's) list and get the top ones on it. Now I have to think about 'what can I get at the best deal.'"

    WELL DUH! That is the common sense way they should have been doing it all this time!

  • homer s Dec 24, 2007

    and credit card debt and default are at a record high.
    we just want shiny new stuff; paying for stuff is of lesser importance... and when the creditors call .... bankruptcy!
    75% of our economy is fueled by consumer spending..