Joyce Gioia would like to get her holiday shopping done. But for the past two months, the Greensboro, N. C., business consultant has spent more time in airports than malls. Cornelius Simpkins hasn't bought...

Share story


NEW YORK — Joyce Gioia would like to get her holiday shopping done. But for the past two months, the Greensboro, N.C., business consultant has spent more time in airports than malls.

Cornelius Simpkins hasn’t bought anything yet because he’s appalled by the “crass commercialism.” But, the Schwenksville, Pa., man expects he’ll cave in on the day before Christmas.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

And Debra Lund of Salt Lake City is sitting on her wallet because she’s hoping for discounts on iPods, surround-sound systems and digital cameras.

All are part of a growing Christmas club: procrastinators. Retail experts believe Americans’ propensity to wait until the last minute to shop is one of the major reasons why holiday sales have so far been lower than expected. Many retailers are catering to them: They’re advertising some gifts as great “last-minute” ideas or even setting up Web sites that specialize in filling orders quickly.

That’s the case with Miami-based TracFone, which has sent its 3.8 million customers letters touting its prepaid cellphones as a “last minute” holiday gift.

The Internet giant Yahoo!, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., features a site called Last Minute Gift Center. Perhaps in an indication of how prevalent procrastination has become, traffic on the site is up 40 percent over last year, says Rob Solomon, a vice president of Yahoo! Shopping.

“This year, the sweet spot for most merchants is Dec. 21 or 22, when some cut off their ability to deliver.”

“I think a lot of people think the longer they wait, the better the bargain,” says Jay MacIntosh, a director of retail and consumer products for Ernst & Young LLP in Chicago. “That’s why this weekend will be critical for the holiday period and the year as a whole.”

Some analysts blame lackluster post-Thanksgiving sales on the weather. Many parts of the country have been warmer than normal. However, this past week, Old Man Winter is giving consumers from Maine to Florida goose bumps — a factor that might actually help. “There will be some cashmere sold today,” says Scott Krugman of the National Retail Federation in Washington. “We’ll see a lot more buying of winter apparel over the next two weeks.”

The sales will certainly help merchants. Some surveys have found that as of last weekend, consumers had completed less than 15 percent of their holiday shopping. “It seems consumers have dragged their feet a bit this season, which implies that over the next two weeks, sales should really boom as the consumer catches up after their collective procrastination,” says Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Regina Conti, an associate professor of psychology at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y thinks one reason people delay shopping may be that some perceive it as less and less pleasant as they fight traffic and crowds in the malls.

Yet for others, the delay may be due to their concept of the holiday as too commercial, says Conti, who has studied procrastinators.

That’s the case with Simpkins, who says he is appalled that holiday decorations seem to be going up even before Halloween. “I’m not overtly religious,” he says, “but at least I can respect the holiday. People should extend more charitable giving instead of bailing out the U.S. economy.”

However, for some people, shopping at the last minute is a dubious family tradition. Rita Emmett of Des Plaines, Ill., author of “The Procrastinator’s Handbook” who describes herself as a reformed delayer, recalls that her father used to wait until Dec. 24 to look for gifts. “He would race after work before the stores would close and just grab what he could.”

That last-minute grab resulted in Rita, at age 11, receiving a cheese basket. One time he gave his wife an electric frying pan after she had asked for something romantic.

“My mom wouldn’t talk to him for six days and it finally cost him a box of candy, a necklace and earring set, a really nice purse, and a fake fur coat,” says Emmett.

Her advice to all those late shoppers: Make lists and simplify.