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Shoppers slip in for final purchases

By Greg Gelpi

Mike Robertson, 58, was at the door of J.C. Penney's before 7 a.m. Friday waiting for the department store to open and waiting to make his final Christmas purchases.

"I don't shop that much," Robertson said as his last gift was getting wrapped at Southlake Mall. "I wait until the last minute. I'm like most men I guess. This is the only thing I procrastinate on."

He arrived at the mall early, intending to zip in and zip out before the crowds, a strategy shared by Riverdale's Jim Kennedy, 65.

"My wife started shopping in July, I imagine," Kennedy said. "I started this morning."

Crowds usually pick up in the afternoons, so he dropped by Southlake Christmas Eve morning.

The steady flow of people in the mall included more than just shoppers. Dixie Palmer, 39, of Jonesboro brought her family for one final visit with Santa Claus, a picture with the big man and that final pitch for Christmas loot.

Palmer said she completed her shopping Thursday and usually finishes much earlier, but got off to a late start this year.

"I figured if I wait until Dec. 1, I wouldn't spend as much as money," she said.

Procrastination may not be all bad, said Russell Casey, Clayton College & State University assistant professor of Marketing and Merchandising.

While last-minute shopping could result in hurried decisions and impulse purchases, Casey said those shoppers could also reap the benefits of the biggest sales.

Many consumers "seem to be waiting until the last minute," and the two extra shopping days this year only contribute to the delay.

"High-end items have actually been selling well," Casey said, adding that shoppers are willing to invest money in "luxury" items.

The slow shopping season is representative of the slow economy as a whole, Casey said.

"There are some people who think the economy is doing really well," he said. "There are some people who think the economy is sluggish."

Spending figures, though, could be skewed because of gift cards and Internet shopping, Casey said. Interestingly, those shopping trends tend to fall along gender lines.

"Men are more likely to shop on the Internet because they are less likely to go out and deal with the crowds," Casey said.

Heavy traffic and a steady stream of shoppers at Southlake Mall has been the hallmark of the days leading up to Christmas said Andrea Brinkman, Southlake's marketing manager. Streets around the mall were relatively quiet, but the mall parking lot remained nearly full Friday.

Tanger Factory Outlet has experienced a strong final Christmas shopping push as well, Assistant General Manager Holly Duffey said. The final Saturday rivaled Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year.

For those still wrapping up shopping, the Associated Press compiled a list of last-minute shopping recommendations from consumer finance experts:

– Bring a list with price limits for each person.

– Have a sense of which stores are more likely to have reasonable prices.

– Buy gifts that are perhaps more useful to people, such as a bottle of wine.

– Avoid the displays and tables at the front of stores and at the check-out counters.

– Avoid easy store credit.

– Use a debit card rather than a credit card.

– If possible, shop without your children, who may want to grab extra gifts for family members.

– Consider buying gift cards, which automatically keep you on budget.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.