NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. shoppers, come out, come out, wherever you are. “Super Saturday,” the last Saturday before Christmas, is often the biggest shopping day of the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.
This year, the day may be busier than ever as procrastinating shoppers seek deeper discounts closer to Christmas.
According to a survey last week for Discover Financial Services, 42 percent of those questioned said they had either not started their holiday shopping, or had completed some — but not much — gift buying.
Getting shoppers into stores for the final days of the season is crucial for retailers. According to ShopperTrak, December 21-24 last year accounted for 13.6 percent of holiday sales.
“Fasten your seat belt because it’s going to be busy, it’s going to be deep discounts, and it’s going to be mayhem,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at research firm NPD Group.
Retailers have been on edge, worried that shoppers will pare budgets in the face of soaring gas prices, a slumping housing market and a credit crunch.
Retailers have cut inventories and started advertising holiday discounts earlier than ever — running online-only sales on Thanksgiving day.
The emphasis on deep discounts have worked — consumers came out in droves for the Thanksgiving weekend, drawn by eye-popping, limited-time deals on “Black Friday.”
But as the deals faded, so too did budget-conscious shoppers, betting that prices would drop later in the season.
“We believe the holiday season has been challenging with sales deteriorating more than we anticipated following a relatively strong Black Friday weekend,” wrote Stifel, Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe.
“In our opinion, a difficult macro environment and adverse weather in the past two weeks (snow storms throughout the Midwest and Northeast, which resulted in an estimated one day of missed sales) have held back sales during the important holiday season.”
Traffic to U.S. stores for the week ended December 15 fell 8.9 percent compared with last year, according to ShopperTrak.
NPD’s Cohen said some of the decline was due to indecision.
Besides popular electronics like Nintendo Co Ltd’s Wii game console and Activision Inc’s, Guitar Hero video game, he said shoppers are unsure of what buy.
“They’re walking around like lost puppies,” he said.
Meanwhile, retailers, worried about protecting their bottom line, did not cut prices as extensively as shoppers wanted after the Thanksgiving weekend.
“Retailers are holding back on giving the big discounts that consumers want this year,” said America’s Research Group Chairman Britt Beemer, “and as a result retail sales are very weak.”
Stores are making a final push this weekend.
Macy’s Inc is keeping seven high-traffic stores in the New York area open around the clock starting December 21 until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. One busy Macy’s store in Queens began operating around-the-clock on December 20.
Kmart, owned by Sears Holdings Corp, will hold a 64-hour sale, starting at 6 a.m. on December 22 and ending at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
J.C. Penney Co Inc is advertising in-store “doorbusters” for Friday night and Saturday morning.
Web sites are playing a big role in the push, offering free shipping and advertising special sales.
Handbag maker Coach Inc allows shoppers to purchase items on its Web site, then pick them up in its stores three hours later.
But many consumers, unsure of what to buy or running out of time, are expected to snap up gift cards this weekend.
That will make it hard to get a full reading on the strength of the holiday season until January, when shoppers return to stores to redeem the cards and retailers are able to record the revenue.
Cohen and other analysts say they will likely have to wait until the third week of January to get a better reading on holiday 2007.
Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe