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Retailers try to attract last-minute shoppers on last week before Christmas

Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Will Hall unloads a cart of newly purchased toys for his son in Cranberry on Wednesda.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Will Hall unloads a cart of newly purchased toys for his son in Cranberry on  Wednesda.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review - Mark Karminski (center) heads out of Best Buy in Cranberry with some of his co-workers on Wednesday.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em> Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review</em></div>Mark Karminski (center) heads out of Best Buy in Cranberry with some of his co-workers on Wednesday.

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Thursday event

Thursday night is the final Thursday Late Night Shopping Event of 2012 in Downtown.

Eleven retailers and service providers will remain open until 8 p.m. Customers who make a purchase will receive a coupon for 20 percent off at one of 11 restaurants.

Participating businesses are Awesome Books, Boutique 208, Boutique la Passerelle, Brooks Brothers, Heinz Healey's, Joseph A. Bank, Joseph Orlando, Larrimor's, Macy's Downtown Pittsburgh, Shaw Galleries and Verve 360°.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Kim Leonard and Rick Wills
Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 11:18 p.m.
 

Retailers are trying to boost sales with longer-than-ever hours and more discounts as shoppers — who fell into a lull between Black Friday and Christmas Eve — get set to begin the last pre-holiday gift-buying weekend.

Macy's is trumpeting its first around-the-clock shopping event at most of its stores, from 7 a.m. Friday through the final minutes of Sunday. Ross Park Mall and South Hills Village will be open until 11 p.m. every night through Saturday, and until 10 Sunday.

Toys R Us will stay open for 88 hours, from 6 a.m. Friday through 10 p.m. Monday, and CEO Jerry Storch told CNBC this could be a record-breaking weekend, especially Saturday.

This season brought surprises.

“It started out very strong with Black Friday weekend, but it didn't seem to hold. It quieted down quite a bit,” retail expert Jeff Green said on Wednesday. Activity has picked up in the last week, he understands.

Possible factors: Malaise brought on by the 32-day span, the longest possible, from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas. Economic worries and mild, wet weather that dampened enthusiasm for sweaters and coats.

Will Hall of Renfrew notices more last-minute shoppers this year. He was at Toys R Us in Cranberry on Wednesday morning, a quiet time, and filled a shopping cart with gifts for son Liam, 3.

“I'm glad I work the afternoon shift. The stores have been packed,” he said, adding he's finished all his shopping, except for a gift card for his uncle.

But only about a third of shoppers have completed their gift-buying, American Research Group said.

Ross Steinman, an associate psychology professor at Widener University, said some shoppers procrastinate because they're worried about finding the perfect gift.

Emotions are tied up in presents, he said, and people realize a too-small or too-big gift can alter a relationship. “What do they do instead? They avoid it,” he said, adding shoppers can benefit by waiting for the highest last-minute markdowns.

Jeff Herzog, an Army officer who teaches at Slippery Rock University, was at Toys R Us in search of Monster High girl dolls. “It was buy-one, get-half-off on the second,” he said, adding that his daughter, Gabby, will get one for Christmas and another later.

Retail traffic counter ShopperTrak said activity was up 15.1 percent last week through Saturday compared to the prior week, but down 4.4 percent from a year ago.

While this Saturday promises to be one of the five busiest shopping days of the season, the Chicago-based firm trimmed its retail sales forecast for November and December to a 2.5 percent increase from a year ago, down from 3.3 percent predicted in September. It blamed Superstorm Sandy, recent shootings at retail centers and economic woes as factors. ShopperTrak's technology works like a virtual turnstile to count visitors at retail centers.

“There's been more awareness around heavily discounted items,” said Chris Angell, director of global marketing. “People put off making the time to go to the stores, and the longer they wait, the heavier the pressure is on the merchant” to mark down prices. Still, people are visiting more stores for the first time in four years, he said.

Market research firm IBISWorld forecast that holiday spending will increase 3.7 percent from last year to total $69.2 billion, a lower rate than the 4.9 percent rise in 2011 because of consumers' fear of the effects of the approaching “fiscal cliff.”

The Chase Holiday Pulse shows last week's “Green Week” was the busiest seven-day period of the season for transaction volume. Online sales were up 10.7 percent year-over-year through the week as shoppers took advantage of free shipping.

In Cranberry, Mark Kreminski and three co-workers at software company TrueCommerce bought a Kindle, a coffee machine and a TV as gifts to raffle off.

“They were all on sale. There are good prices everywhere,” he said.

Kim Leonard and Rick Wills are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Leonard can be reached at 412-380-5606 or kleonard@tribweb.com. Wills can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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