Stores see busy, but not bang-up Christmas Eve

Sat Dec 24, 2011 4:05pm EST
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By Martinne Geller and Lisa Baertlein

NEW YORK/LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Retailers saw a steady flow of last-minute shoppers on Saturday, the day before Christmas, putting a moderate cap on a pre-holiday season that started with a bang and has since waned.

Industry watchers are forecasting a stronger holiday shopping season than expected, fueled by deep discounts at the start of the season, unusually warm and dry weather, a late Hanukkah, and an extra shopping day.

On the last shopping day before Christmas, the scene at several malls in different parts of the country was busy, but neither shoppers nor retailers seemed overwhelmed.

"The last-minute Charlies have come out," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group. "Stores are busy, but not bustling."

The fact that Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday is good for retailers like Wal-Mart Stores, Best Buy and Gap Inc. So is the fact that the day after Christmas is a Monday, instead of a Sunday like last year, when many people stayed home and watched American football, said Ramesh Swamy, an analyst in Deloitte's retail practice.

"The calendar is working in our favor," Swamy said.

So is the fact that there was no blizzard this year, like there was last year.

Many stores around the country saw brisk traffic in the past week, and Friday was the busiest shopping day of the season, according to a survey of stores done by mall operator Taubman Centers Inc.   Continued...