Local News

Shoppers return to malls, looking for deals

Posted December 26, 2009 5:39 p.m. EST
Updated December 26, 2009 11:29 p.m. EST

— Shoppers across the Triangle returned to malls Saturday, rummaging through thinly stocked shelves hunting for deals, next year's Christmas gifts and, for most, gifts for themselves.

Retailers made a push to woo gift-card-toting shoppers by slashing prices and offering doorbuster deals often reserved for the day after Thanksgiving.

Crabtree Valley Mall planned to remain open until 10 p.m. Saturday to draw in as many customers as possible, while Triangle Town Center, the Streets at Southpoint and Cross Creek malls all planned to close at 9 p.m. Area Target and Kohl's stores planned to stay open until 11 p.m.

Sara Valencia, of Durham, came to Crabtree to shop with her mother, husband and sister-in-law. She said shopping the day after Christmas is tradition and the best time to buy holiday decor.

“A lot of ornaments, dish towels, candles, yeah, holiday decor, pretty much for the house,” Valencia said of the items she purchased.

While wives were tracking down the bargains, some husbands kept track of ESPN.

Ronnie Roy, of Fayetteville, drove to Crabtree with his wife. But he wasn't in the mood for shopping.

“I decided to take seat on the couch and watch ESPN while she's still shopping,” he said.

James Speller, of Charlotte, was also at the mall with his wife and found other ways to pass the time.

“I'm not big on the shopping thing,” he said.

Teresa DeNeal was shopping at Crabtree with her 13-year-old daughter, Bethany. She and her husband gave their children cash this Christmas so they could pick out what they wanted.

Bethany bought mostly clothes, while Teresa didn't find anything she wanted.

“If I really don't need it, or it doesn't grab me, I leave it,” DeNeal said.

At the Target store in Cary, managers said 40 people were waiting outside when the doors opened at 7 a.m. They headed straight for the Christmas decor section.

The store staffed the customer service desk with extra help for returns and exchanges. Customers said they didn't have to wait long and that it was hassle-free and easy.

Peggy Cheek returned a Zhu Zhu Pets hamster her granddaughter received for Christmas because it wouldn't run. She was surprised by the lack of return lines.

“Hardly no line at all. I was suspecting a line all the way to the back of the store,” she said.

The week after Christmas is big business for retailers, making up 15 percent of sales last year, according research from ShopperTrak, which tracks sales and traffic at more than 50,000 outlets.

Thanks to a fluke in the calendar, merchants have a whole weekend to entice shoppers immediately after Christmas. That meant many stores were offering expanded hours Saturday and extra deals hoping crowds of gift-card-toting shoppers would snap up goods.

Walmart was offering half off toys and Toys R Us touted buy one, get one half-off offers. At Sears, customers could find coats for 70 percent off while some jeans were $10. And Gap Inc.'s Old Navy brand was selling men's and women's jeans for $15 for the day and an e-mail encouraged shoppers to "redeem your gift cards today."

Gift card sales are not recorded until shoppers redeem them.

Retailers received a much-needed last-minute sales surge in the final days before Dec. 25, fueled by shoppers who delayed buying, waited for bigger discounts that never came or were slowed by wintry weather.

But now they're counting on the days after Christmas to perk up overall holiday sales in a season that looks like it's modestly better than last year's disaster.

The full holiday picture won't be known until merchants report December sales Jan. 7. But most expect merchants' fourth-quarter profits should be intact because they didn't press the panic button.

ShopperTrak is sticking to its prediction for a 1.6 percent gain, compared with a 5.9 percent drop a year ago.

The National Retail Federation expects that total retail sales will slip 1 percent, though some experts say that might be a bit too cautious. A year ago, they fell 3.4 percent by the trade group's calculations.