New York Shoppers - some holding out for the best deals, others just not inspired to shop earlier - headed for the nation's malls and stores for last-minute gifts or gift cards on Saturday, the day before Christmas.
With shoppers delaying their holiday shopping even longer than last year, merchants are depending even more on the final hours before Christmas and post-holiday business to salvage the season. The exceptions have been online retailers, sellers of consumer electronics and luxury stores, which have continued to generate strong gains.
A longer season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, a late Hanukkah and the lack of must-have items, except for gadgets such as Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, flat-screen TVs and Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod digital music player, have all helped consumers prolong their shopping.
There are more procrastinators out there with bigger crowds on Christmas Eve, compared with last year.
To meet the need, Wal-Mart for the first time set up a special checkout aisle for those buying gift cards on Saturday, Lavielle said.
The final days before Christmas and post-holiday business, boosted in part by gift card sales, have become increasingly critical for retailers. Gift card sales are not recorded on a retailers' balance sheet until the cards are redeemed.
According to BigResearch, which conducted a poll for the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend a total of $18.48 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up 6.6 percent from a year ago. But many stores and malls are reporting much bigger gains.
Some shoppers just needed more time.
"This is the first time I am doing last-minute shopping," said Julie Hess, of West Hartford, Conn., who was at the Shops at Evergreen Walk in South Windsor, Conn. "I guess it just slipped away from me this year."
For others it was just an annual ritual, particularly for men.
"I do it every year - it's tradition, no sense in shopping early," said Cross Cruise, of Narragansett, R.I., who was at Providence Place. He was carrying a bag from teen retailer Abercrombie & Fitch Co. that included clothes for himself. He had no idea what he would buy for others.
But holding out had plenty of upside - there were generous deals.
"I'm hoping to catch sales, and I know the stores are open," said Lillian Frazier, of Baltimore, who was shopping at a Kmart. "I know I can beat the rush hour and try to catch some bargains."