Tempers flaring. Horns honking. Faces looking panicked or weary.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Shoppers found themselves down to the wire this weekend, fighting for parking spaces and wading through thick crowds in area stores, scrambling to cross the last few items off their Christmas lists.
Dubbed Super Saturday, the final Saturday before Christmas is the busiest day of the holiday shopping season. Retailers are expected to ring in some of their highest-revenue sales this weekend, cashing in on last-minute shoppers like Brittney Laverdi and Danielle Kloosterman of Lewiston, who began their Christmas shopping just this week.
“Thanksgiving really threw me off,” said Kloosterman, her arms laden with bags at Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls. “It fell so late.”
Indeed, this year’s shopping season is nearly a week shorter than last, catching a lot of shoppers short.
“I think it crept up on many people, and the urgency has arrived,” said Betsey Bonvissuto, marketing director for Boulevard Mall in Amherst. “People have been saying to me, ‘Oh my gosh, Christmas is here, and I haven’t even started my shopping yet.’ ”
In what is their last chance to capture consumer wallets – enticing shoppers to pick up add-on gifts for the people on their lists or to snag a little something for themselves – retailers cut prices significantly. Signs offering 50 percent off were the norm; buy-one-get-one-free sales were abundant and several stores such as Victoria’s Secret PINK were offering free gifts with purchases. H&M had cocktail gowns for $7, while Bath and Body Works sold lotion and perfume on a buy-three-get three-free basis.
“This is only $10, and it’s my size,” said one shopper in the Gap Outlet at Fashion Outlets. “I have got to get out of this mall.”
Retailers had all hands on deck this weekend to keep up with the crowds. Stores were fully staffed, cash registers were well-manned to keep the lines moving, and security had a noticeably strong presence inside and outside malls, to keep crowds – and possible shoplifters – in check.
Roads near shopping centers were mobbed Saturday – Niagara Falls Boulevard near Maple Road in Amherst was particularly snarled – and parking spaces were at a premium.
“I had to park all the way down by the post office,” said Matthew Bader, general manager of the Walden Galleria, about his parking spot all the way down Galleria Drive near Union Road. “That’s the farthest I’ve ever had to park since I’ve worked here.”
Restaurants, food courts and drive-thrus were busy, too, as harried shoppers paused to refuel.
Dejanique Miller of Buffalo usually has her shopping done by now, but last week’s snowstorm kept her inside with her 2-month-old daughter. She started and finished her Christmas shopping Saturday.
“This was the first time I was able to get out of the house,” Miller said.
Retailers were worried weather might dampen traffic, too, but it seemed down-to-the-wire shoppers were left with no option but to brave the icy rain.
“Yeah, it’s miserable but what am I going to do – wait until next week?” said Jennifer Hudson of Lancaster.
Perhaps to make up for last week’s lost weekend, weekday and weeknight traffic has been brisk and steady, retailers said.
“We have been a madhouse,” said Russ Fulton, general manager of Eastern Hills Mall in Clarence.
The mall’s sales are up significantly from 2012, Fulton said, and show no signs of slowing.
“This season has been so good to us,” he added.
Retailers have gone to unprecedented lengths to make up for lost time this season. Stores such as Toys R’ Us, Target, Kmart and Kohl’s are keeping their doors open around-the-clock until Christmas Eve, while others such as Macy’s will keep doors open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. each day.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have been fighting for market share with online powerhouses such as Amazon.com, which offers free, two-day shipping on many items. Online sales are expected to increase by as much as 15 percent from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
But by now, most guaranteed-by-Christmas Eve shipping deadlines have come and gone.
Gift cards, the great go-to gift for procrastinating shoppers, have been very popular during the short season, with more than 80 percent of shoppers springing for them, according to the NRF’s Gift Card Spending Survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics. Spending on gift cards is expected to reach an all-time high of $29.8 billion this season.
Digital gift cards, such as those offered by Boulevard Mall, can be purchased online and delivered immediately to the buyer’s email inbox.
“As more and more Americans are tied to their mobile devices, we expect digital gift cards to be especially popular with consumers,” Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said in the report.
Overall, shoppers are expected to spend $602.1 billion this season, up 3.9 percent from last year according to the National Retail Federation.
“I will just be glad when it’s done,” Hudson said.