Armed with gift cards and a zeal for bargains, crowds returned to the nation's malls and stores Monday for a second round of holiday shopping...

Share story

NEW YORK — Armed with gift cards and a zeal for bargains, crowds returned to the nation’s malls and stores Monday for a second round of holiday shopping as retailers hoped for a post-Christmas sales blitz.


Some retailers already know it’s been a good season. Seattle-based online giant Amazon.com said its holiday sales worldwide set a record this year, powered by strong demand for Apple Computer’s iPod music players, video games and jewelry.


But many stores — stymied by shoppers procrastinating more than usual — are relying heavily on the post-holiday business to meet their modest sales goals. They 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. 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, a market-research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y.


In fact, a growing number of stores such as Coach, Target and American Eagle Outfitters rolled out some spring merchandise, while KB Toys pushed new versions of Barbie and the funky Bratz dolls.


Consumer-electronics chains such as Best Buy highlighted CDs, DVDs and video games in their advertising, counting on shoppers to feed the gadgets they received as gifts.


Online sites such as overstock.com and buy.com courted customers with free shipping deals and deeper discounts Monday, though online shopping has been a bright spot in the season.


At Amazon, shoppers bought more than 108 million items between Nov. 1 and Christmas, the online retailer said Monday, without providing revenue figures. The busiest day was Dec. 12, when customers ordered 3.6 million items.


Amazon this year introduced an online-gift organizer that allows users to build a list of the people they give presents to on Christmas and other holidays. The site also offered shopping guides from more than 40 magazines including Bon Appétit, Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Lucky.


Amazon said it sold a $94,000 pair of diamond earrings during the holidays. The most popular video games were “Mario Party 7” for Gamecube and Sid Meier’s “Civilization IV” for personal computers, the company said.


Different models of iPods were Amazon’s top three hottest sellers in electronics.


Gifts set in ink


Most shoppers braving Monday’s crowds were clamoring for a deal.


Plan A for the day after Christmas in Seattle was new tattoos, a gift Teddy Taylor gave his wife, Lisa.


When they found the tattoo parlor wasn’t open yet, they settled for Plan B: joining the throngs of shoppers at Seattle’s Westlake Center making the switch from buying for others to buying for themselves.


The Taylors bought a teapot and some books.


A sign at Macy’s read “To: me, From: me.” Another, at Gap, promised “instant gratification — Use your Gap gift card.”


One couple — self-described “poor college students” — put off exchanging gifts until Monday in hopes of finding deals. Some people were entertaining their out-of-town guests. Families were out together making returns and exchanging the gifts they got for the gifts they wanted.


Cheryl Kitashima of Mercer Island helped her 19-year-old daughter and niece.


“People were foolish enough to give them real presents instead of money,” she said.


“Anything on sale”


Nationwide, the search for discounts brought millions out.


“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 cheapo markdowns.”


Westfall found several deals, including a $130 cocktail dress for $20 and children’s clothes discounted 90 percent.


Some shoppers were finishing their own Christmas shopping and some of the season’s hottest gifts were sometimes in scarce supply. Kimberlee Wiley of New Bedford, Mass., went hunting for a $300 iPod digital music player Monday at the local Filene’s department store, using all the gift cards she had received for Christmas. She discovered the iPods were sold out, and later bought one online.


While this week should be busy for retailers, Cohen of NPD expects that retailers will wind up with a modest sales increase of a little more than 3 percent for the November-


December period. The estimate is based on same-store sales, which are sales at stores open at least a year.


Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, expects that 20 percent of gift-card holders will redeem their cards this week.


Seattle-based GiftCertificates.com said teens, the largest adopters of gift cards, are expected to redeem them an average of 30 days after receiving them.


According to ShopperTrak RCT, which tracks sales at more than 40,000 primarily mall-based stores, the week after Christmas accounted for 10 percent of holiday sales last year, but analysts expect that period to account for as much as 14 percent this year, given gift cards’ soaring popularity.


The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend $18.48 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up 6.6 percent from a year ago, based on a survey conducted by BIGresearch. But plenty of malls and stores are seeing larger increases.


Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers, which operates or owns 23 malls in 11 states, reported that 25 percent of those redeeming gift cards on Monday were spending more than the value of the card.


Seattle Times staff reporters Emily Heffter and Monica Soto Ouchi contributed to this report, along with Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Providence, R.I., Derrill Holly in Washington, D.C., and Larry Messina in Charleston, W.Va. Information about Amazon.com came from Bloomberg.