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Mother Nature, calendar may boost holiday sales

NEW YORK — As Bing Crosby croons White Christmas in malls around the country, retailers from Chicago to Boston are betting on a snow-free weekend to cap a strong holiday shopping season.

Last year, a blizzard that began on Christmas closed thousands of stores on the East Coast the next day, when millions of consumers typically make exchanges and redeem gift cards.

The calendar is also lending a potential boost. With Christmas Eve on a Saturday, Macy's, Toys "R" Us and Family Dollar Stores are all extending their hours. The day after Christmas, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, is Monday.

Last year, it fell on Sunday, when religious services and football games kept people away from malls.

"It's going to be hugely better after last year was a wipeout for about 15 percent of the country," said Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners. That could boost sales in stores and on the Web on Monday from an estimated $20 billion last year to $29 billion and make it the year's largest shopping day, he said.

No major snowstorms are forecast for this weekend, continuing one of the warmest and driest holiday seasons on record. One of the effects of the balmy weather, including North America's fourth-warmest November of the past 50 years, is less demand for sweaters and jackets. As a result, such U.S. apparel chains as Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap have been discounting cold-weather gear, with markdowns of as much as 70 percent last weekend, said Stacy Pak, a San Francisco-based analyst for Barclays Capital.

Thirty percent of consumers had holiday shopping left to do entering this week, an increase from 26 percent a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Chains are trying to attract those last-minute shoppers by extending store hours. Toys "R" Us planned to keep almost all of its 600 U.S. locations open for 112 uninterrupted hours from Dec. 20 to Christmas Eve.

Macy's, the second-largest U.S. department store chain, is opening some locations for 83 straight hours and extending closing hours to 2 a.m. at others.

These extended hours are the latest example of retailers going after sales by any means necessary, according to Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Industries analyst in Princeton, N.J.

Mother Nature, calendar may boost holiday sales 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 6:36pm]
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