The Joys—and Savings—of Last Minute Shopping

By Martin Brown

In this the year of the bargain, is there any such thing as budget shopping? Apparently that depends on where in the country you are and what income level you are in. Phone interviews I did with several retailers in different cities illustrate the point.

In Cleveland, Detroit for example, and in many parts of the Southeast—Raleigh, Atlanta, and many more; and in central locations, such as  St. Louis and Houston—there are a lot of people feeling the full force of the recessionary economy.

At the other end of the spectrum, in such areas as San Francisco, retail sales are moving at a good clip, particularly in those stores that caterer to high-end shoppers. This is certainly true at such higher end retailers as Nordstrom in San Francisco Centre location where one sales associate, who requested anonymity,  said, “The media is full of it, talking about how desperate people are! We’re doing very well in my area of the store. In fact, the whole store is busy.”

Nevertheless, in spite of good times continuing to role in certain pockets of the economy, many retailers have been blindsided by the steep drop-off in consumer spending in most locations and by most levels of the income ladder. Couple this fact with stores that were well-stocked early this fall in preparation for what was supposed to be a more robust economy, and you have a great season for bargain hunting.

The National Retail Federation reported late last week that with Christmas bearing down, consumers have remained slow in completing their shopping. As of December 18th, the NRF found most shoppers are barely half finished with their shopping or haven’t even started yet.

The reason most certainly is that everyone is waiting — and hoping — for desperate retailers to slash prices even further. “The consumers have the upper hand this year,” said Pam Goodfellow, senior analyst at BIGresearch, which conducted the survey of late shoppers.

“The longer you wait, the better bargains will be.” said Marti Kopacz, a retail distress expert for Grant Thornton corporate advisory and restructuring services. She anticipates consumers will be able to find a good selection of toys, apparel, housewares, home goods, music, media and electronics all for 60 to 70 percent off regular prices.

In previous years waiting until December 22nd, 23rd, or 24th to take the retail plunge has not been a very good strategy, because by that time most stores had very limited options. But this year, most of the country appears to be sharply different, and if you are someone who typically enjoys the rush of last minute shopping, this might well be your season of unexpected treasures waiting to be found!