On Christmas Eve, frantic shoppers still find it fun

Shoppers rushing to the malls on Christmas Eve "puts you in the spirit," says Kari Gaskins of Prince George's County, who was shopping at Pentagon City. It's also destined to broaden the smile of retailers, with holiday spending this year predicted to jump 3.3 percent. Many stores decided to extend their hours to meet demand.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 9:37 PM

On Christmas Eve, you could no longer order the latest Kindle from Amazon.com or take advantage of rivals' free-shipping offers. And it was too late to ask Santa for something particular. He was already in his sleigh, galloping across Europe.

So, by Friday afternoon, tens of thousands of last-minute shoppers had only the malls and shops around the Washington region to find the perfect DVD, sweater, book, video game or gadget to pick up and slide, just in time, under the Christmas tree.

"I do most of my shopping online," said Kari Gaskins, a pharmaceutical sales representative who lives in Prince George's County, while shopping at the Fashion Centre mall at Pentagon City. "But not all of my shopping. I think coming here with all of the people puts you in the spirit of Christmas, with all of the hustle and bustle."

Forecasters couldn't say definitively whether there would be a white Christmas. But it was clear that for the nation's retailers, after two difficult years in economic recession, this might be a bit greener holiday.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, estimated that holiday spending this year would jump 3.3 percent, more than its original prediction of 2.3 percent.

A lot of that action came Friday, when 31.1 million consumers - more than 15 percent of Americans - planned to do last-minute shopping, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

"I'm spending more this year," said Hiwot Guebre, a research coordinator at a local university who lives in Arlington County. Picking up some Wii video games for her nieces and nephews, she said she felt more comfortable spending on family.

In anticipation of the final rush, many chains launched 11th-hour promotions. Victoria's Secret announced its popular semi-annual sale. Toys R Us, Macy's and Old Navy all planned to keep their doors open 24 hours through Christmas Eve. Toys R Us was planning to keep many of its stores open until 10 p.m. Friday, an hour later than last year.

"Usually at this time, everything is on sale. So I go shopping," said Chung Ming, a taxi driver who lives in the District and picked up a pasta cooker and collection of pans at Macy's in downtown Washington.

Many retailers have touted gift cards to round out Christmas stockings. In fact, gift cards stood to eclipse clothing as the most popular gift this season. Clothing took up the second spot, followed by toys and games; music and videos; money; and gadgets.

All that shopping takes time. An analysis by Consumer Reports shows shoppers are expected to spend an average of 15 hours looking for gifts during the holiday. They'll spend 31/2 more hours waiting to check out.

Perhaps playing to a stereotype, the number of men double that of women who would be doing last-minute shopping, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers survey. And younger people were more likely to have put off shopping until the final minutes.

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