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Retailers Try One Last Lure

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In recent years, retailers have looked forward to the weeks after Christmas as shoppers armed with gift cards returned to the malls in droves. But this season, gift card sales are expected to drop nearly 6 percent to $24.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

That could have a significant impact on December sales because shoppers typically spend more when using gift cards. McNamara said spending during the last week of December historically has accounted for 12 to 13 percent of retail sales for the month. Last year, it made up nearly 17 percent of sales.

"The retailers are almost doing door-buster kind of deals again to try to clean out any excess inventory," McNamara said.

At a Wal-Mart in Waldorf yesterday morning, Vivian Miller was pushing a shopping cart full of Christmas candy-cane decorations, wrapping paper and small gift items such as perfume and body wash.

Miller said she came to the sale looking for super deals and found them. "I'm not doing anything over $20," she said. She was buying gifts for the staff at a hospital who took care of her brother, and all the items in her cart were marked half off, including body wash selling for $5 and the candy canes priced at $1.25.

"These are tough times for stores. People who [can help] need to come out and do it now," said Miller, 40, of Waldorf. "Spread cheer all over."

But not everyone was celebrating the prices. Rebecca Johnson of New Carrollton deliberated over the price of a men's white shirt at J.C. Penney that was marked down yesterday to $19.99 from $30.

"I think this really should come down a little bit more," she said.

Del Wester, 57, of the District suggested that Johnson try Macy's instead. He had scored five flannel shirts there for $8.50 each.

"You gotta know how to shop," he told her.

Anthony and Kimberly Madison of Forrestville said they were looking for a deal on a 46- to 50-inch high-definition, flat-panel TV. After looking on the Internet and at several other stores, Anthony Madison, 50, said he found that Wal-Mart had the best price. Still, it wasn't under $1,000 as he had expected.

"We know the market pressures, and we're willing to walk away," he said.

A few minutes later, a sales clerk with whom the Madisons had been bargaining caught up with them.

"I have good news and bad news. The good news is that we can sell the 47-inch for $897. The bad news is that we can't sell it for that price until Sunday," she said

The Madisons weren't sold. They decided to look for a better deal someplace else.

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