Scramble on for last-minute gifts

Although she battled through cluttered sidewalks in The City’s central shopping district Thursday, Bethany Gonsman wouldn’t say she was a last-minute shopper panicking to make the Christmas deadline.

“I got all my main gifts last month,” the 34-year-old Hayes Valley resident said. “I’m browsing for deals … and stocking stuffers.”

Andrzej Wasiak, 60, of St. Louis had a different reason for braving a bustling Westfield San Francisco Centre on Christmas Eve. He and his wife are visiting their son Martin, a SoMa district software engineer, and failed to notice until Thursday that Martin does not own the proper cooking equipment for their family’s traditional Christmas feast.

“We just realized it,” he said.

Wasiak wasn’t at all flustered — he rested comfortably on a chair in the mall’s lobby and let his wife scour the shops.
“It’ll only be 20 minutes,” he reasoned.

While some shoppers moved at a lightning-quick pace to put an end to their holiday shopping needs, others took advantage of a sunny afternoon in The City to enjoy the many Christmas decorations downtown. Some folks perused stores for last-ditch deals on unclaimed items.

That was all good news for retailers, who hoped to see improved holiday sales from last year despite continued trepidation about the economy.

Up through Dec. 12, retail sales nationwide had increased by 1.1 percent from last year, according to ShopperTrak, a San Mateo research firm that monitors total retail sales at more than 50,000 outlets.

Also, the average person had only completed 46.7 percent of their holiday shopping by the second week of December, the lowest percentage since 2004, according to the National Retail Federation.

The plan for retailers was to “emphasize promotions and discounts to bring in last-minute shoppers,” NRF President-CEO Tracy Mullin said in a released statement.

However, the winter storms that recently battered the East Coast dashed retailers’ hopes for positive sales numbers on Super Saturday, a major shopping day that occurs on the last Saturday before Christmas.

Nationwide retail sales that day dropped 12.6 percent from a year ago, while foot traffic fell 12.4 percent, ShopperTrak said. That adds to the 12.4 percent sales decline that occurred on Super Saturday last year, the firm said.

But in the Bay Area, which has endured a bit of rain but nothing that would trap folks indoors, retailers painted a brighter picture of the current holiday shopping season.

“It’s been very, very busy,” said Missy Heanue, the marketing director for Westfield San Francisco Centre. “This week has been nuts.”

Heanue said retailers at the mall have had a positive reaction to the amount of foot traffic in their stores. Then again, she couldn’t speak for stores in other Bay Area locations: The Westfield San Francisco Centre is typically popular regionwide during the holidays since it is in the center of The City and is fed by major transit lines, she said.

Retailers are looking forward to at least one more day of intense holiday shopping: the day after Christmas. That’s when many people might cash-in their gift cards or make another attempt to capitalize on last-minute deals, she said.

“The 26th is always wild,” Heanue said. “It’s a very busy day for us.”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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