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Attention shoppers: You have three days left to fill your Christmas list
Local retailers seeing more late bargain hunters
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If you've finished buying your holiday gifts, you're in the minority.

A survey commissioned by the International Council of Shopping Centers revealed American shoppers are hitting the stores later than ever this holiday season. Only 50 percent of the respondents said they had completed half or most of their holiday shopping as of the time the survey was conducted, Dec. 13-16, and only 20 percent said their shopping was done.

Judy White, store manager of Belk at Lakeshore Mall, said her store was bracing for the biggest weekend of the holiday season.

Why the procrastination? The top reason this year is having a weekend before Christmas to shop, according to 67 percent of those asked.

Then there is the perception of having more time this year, given the 32 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2007, the survey said.

Roger Tutterow, an economist and professor at Mercer University, said consumers are also playing a cat-and-mouse game with retailers.

"The consumers try to wait it out, hoping the retailers will cut prices," Tutterow said. "The retailers hold out as long as they can, knowing at the end of the day they're going to have to do what's necessary to clear the shelves."

Tutterow said stores have had an abundance of visitors who are not necessarily shoppers. "The early indications were that there was a lot more traffic in the store than was expected," he said. "But I'm not sure that traffic translated through into final sales."

Like many retailers, Belk is offering discounts as much as 50 percent on selected merchandise and offered a storewide discount coupon in a newspaper promotion in The Times.

While much attention is focused on "Black Friday," the big sales push after Thanksgiving, retail trends in recent years have shown that this weekend, the final one before Christmas, will be the peak of the season for holiday shopping business.

"Having the final weekend fall so close to Christmas Eve assures that it will be a very intense shopping time," Tutterow said. "You'll have the combination of the normal last weekend coupled with all the last-minute shoppers."

The popularity of gift cards is yet another factor in this waiting game. Some 52 percent of respondents said the option to just give a gift card allows them to delay their shopping without anxiety.

Tutterow predicted an extended season for retailers as an estimated $90 billion in gift cards is redeemed for merchandise after Christmas.

Nationally, the Commerce Department reported Friday that consumer spending shot up 1.1 percent last month, nearly triple the October gain.

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