Many stores, stymied by shoppers procrastinating even longer than last year, are relying even more on the post-holiday business to meet their modest sales goals, and wooed customers with deeper discounts, expanded shopping hours and fresh regular price merchandise.
They're largely aiming their efforts at the growing numbers of gift card holders who are expected to spend their newfound money more generously. Gift cards are recorded as sales only when they're redeemed.
"Retailers have recognized that December has 31 days," said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group Inc., a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.
In fact, in an effort to prop up profits, a growing number of stores such as Coach Inc., Target Corp., and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. rolled out some spring merchandise while KB Toys Inc. was pushing new versions of Barbie and the funky Bratz dolls.
Consumer electronic chains such as Best Buy Co. Inc. were highlighting CDs, DVDs and video games in their advertising, counting on shoppers to feed the gadgets they received for the holiday.
"I'm looking for new merchandise," said James Coffey, who was among the early shoppers at Town Center Mall in Charleston, W.Va. He was bearing gift cards including one from Sears, Roebuck and Co. and another for the mall, aiming to spend as much as $300.
Still, most shoppers were clamoring for a deal.
"I wouldn't pay full price today for anything," said Misty Watters, who snapped up discounted Nike sweat pants and T-shirts at McCain Mall in North Little Rock, Ark.
"We're looking for anything on sale," said Jennifer Westfall, of Charleston, W.Va., who brought her mother and 7-year-old daughter to the local Charleston Mall. "Only cheap-o markdowns."
Westfall found several deals, including a $130 cocktail dress for $20 and children's clothes discounted 90 percent.
Meanwhile, at the Robinsons-May store in suburban Canoga Park, Calif., hundreds of people were standing outside in the rain before the 6 a.m. opening.
"I'm just here to see if there's a bargain," said Pamela Porterfield, who purchased discounted bowling ball coffee mugs.