shoppers flock to stores
Retailers hope consumers use gift cards before year's end
MSNBC staff and wire reports
Updated: 5:53 p.m. ET Dec. 26, 2003Shoppers flocked to the malls
Friday to snap up bargains as the nation's retailers slashed prices
and hoped for post-holiday rush to boost sales figures that failed
to meet expectations for the second straight year.
Retailers blamed the disappointing sales on a myriad of factors
including bad weather, a heightened security alert and the popularity
of plastic gift cards.
The gift cards are not recorded as revenue until they are redeemed
for merchandise, so retailers are hoping that people spend them
fast enough to count toward December sales.
The International Council of Shopping Centers trade group estimated
that gift card demand doubled to roughly 10 percent of all holiday
dollars spent this year, so stores are counting on quite a few
cards coming in this weekend.
“Gift cards are the best,” said Andy Yang, who was
shopping in Manhattan and had already used his $400 gift card
to pick up high-tech gear at an Apple computer store. “Last
year, it was merchandise, but this year everybody wants a gift
Not quite everybody -- Nancy Furman said the cards were too impersonal,
and can carry hidden costs. Some retailers deduct a fee if the
cards aren’t used in a certain time period.
“My family doesn’t do gift cards,” she said.
While business picked up during the final days before Christmas,
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Friday that sales were not robust enough
to offset modest sales throughout the month.
Many people took Friday off to extend the Christmas holiday through
the weekend, giving retailers hope that stores would be especially
crowded this year.
In Columbus, Ohio, shoppers started lining up outside a Target
store at the Polaris shopping center just after 6:30 a.m. By the
time the store opened a half-hour later, about 100 people were
at the store's two entrances.
"You've got to move fast. That's why I'm wearing tennis
shoes," said Christine Best, 33, of the Columbus suburb of
Delaware. "They slash prices on everything Christmasy. I'm
headed straight for the wrapping paper."
Best said she buys holiday gifts the day after Christmas and
tucks them away for the following year.
"I only bought about $100 worth of stuff before Christmas
this year because I had most everything I needed last year."
Also at Target were Ashley Richards, 13, and her mother, Diana,
of Powell, both of whom make it a tradition to hit the stores
first thing in the morning on the 26th. Before heading to Target,
they stopped at Wal-Mart.
"They had all of their gift sets on sale _ makeup gift sets,
lotions, hair and nail sets. Everything was half off," Ashley
"We shop for ourselves after Christmas because if you buy
things ahead of time, people might change and they might not like
this same things next year," she said.
At Macy's Herald Square store in Manhattan, Marcia Kelly and
her husband, Manton Kelly, of the Bronx, had come with a mission:
to find a bargain on a coat _ and snapped up a nylon Kenneth Cole
Reaction jacket for him.
"I got a good deal, 50 percent off," he said.
Thirty minutes after Macy's opened, they were already toting
the jacket in a shopping bag and stood studying a display of drinking
glasses selling for $19.97 for four, a 60 percent reduction. They
picked up two sets.
High-end retailers delight
This holiday season, high-end stores such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom
and Sharper Image have enjoyed robust sales, while mid-priced
department stores have fared the worst. Even discounters like
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have struggled with muted sales gains, as
lower-income consumers still haven't benefited from the economic
Analysts said many of the luxury retailers were able to sell
merchandise at full price, which should protect profits.
Sharper Image Corp., which sells pricey gadgets, said Friday
that sales at stores open at least a year were up 21 percent through
Christmas Eve, and raised its earnings forecast.
Analysts expect upbeat reports from other high-end retailers
in the next few weeks.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.