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Business

Local shoppers seek post-holiday deals

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2007

Retailers opened earlier than usual on the day after Christmas and slashed prices with hopes of salvaging a holiday season that's falling short of most projections.

At Ross Park Mall, retailers unlocked their doors at 6 a.m. Wednesday, and it wasn't long before parking spaces, store loading zones, even grassy areas, were filled.

The traffic jam outside carried inside, with many visitors carrying various retailer bags as they negotiated the shopper-crowded aisles. Large signs in many retailers' entranceways boasted 50 percent and more off merchandise.

Carol Milivuk, 47, and daughter Carly, 14, of Glenshaw were part of the post-Christmas rush at Ross Park, looking for, and finding, bargains.

"We're looking mainly for jeans and shoes. We were in one store and bought her jeans for $9.99 that were $20 before Christmas," Carol Milivuk said.

Ron and Diana Channing of Bellevue visited the mall to make some returns and to keep an eye out for low prices.

"I bought an advanced upgrade on a lens for my camera," Ron said.

"We're doing some returns, and we bought some towels," said Diana. "We really are seeing some deals."

Merchants are trying to lure post-Christmas bargain hunters and gift card users to provide a boost during the crucial holiday-shopping, money-making period. Gift card sales, which have been growing in recent years, are not recorded until shoppers redeem them.

Marlene and Glenn Todd of New Castle visited Ross Park Mall for two interconnected reasons: the bargains and Marlene's birthday yesterday. "We're here looking for shoes," Glenn said, adding that after Ross Park, the next stop would be Robinson Town Centre. They received gift cards for Christmas, but left home yesterday without them.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said that sales at stores opened at least a year during the November-December period are coming in below projections of just a 2.5 percent gain, though it said a post-Christmas buying bump could erase that shortfall.

"I have (thought), and still think, that this year will be a little low on shopping for retailers," said Andrew Seibert, senior portfolio manager for NexTier Bank's wealth management unit in Butler. "It seems to be coming true. Today will be okay, but I don't think shoppers are going to be out spending an overabundance after Christmas."

Despite a strong start to the season, shoppers held out for deals through most of December, amid higher gasoline prices, an escalating credit crisis and a housing slump, experts said. The economy made shoppers cautious, said Michael McNamara, vice president, research and analysis, MasterCard Advisors.

To spur business, stores rolled out discounts early and aggressively in the shopping season, raising concern about profits during the crucial shopping period. The holiday season accounts for up to 30 percent of annual stores sales, as much as 50 percent for toy retailers.

The post-Christmas season has become more important with the increasing popularity of gift cards. According to Archstone Consulting LLC, spending on gift cards this year could hit $35 billion.

"I think most of (the) gift cards will be spent in January, not now," NexTier's Seibert said. "Shoppers will be expecting even more price cuts then."

"We did get gift cards, but we're not using them today," Milivuk said. "I'll wait until February or March, when I'm tired of being inside and don't have any money."

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