The kickoff to the holiday season gets earlier every year, but that doesn't mean consumers are getting better at finishing their shopping early. As the National Retail Federation notes, American consumers typically have about half their holiday shopping left to go in mid-December. And according to a survey conducted by Visa, 77% of consumers hadn't finished their shopping as of last weekend, and 14% hadn't even started.
So if you're going into this weekend without your shopping finished, you're not alone.
But that doesn't mean you're in good shape. If you've put your shopping off this long, then you'll have to navigate a landscape littered with packed malls, expedited shipping charges and empty shelves. Here's how you can get through it in one piece.
Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Guide
This Saturday is known as Super Saturday, the last Saturday before Christmas. That's "Super" as in "super hard to find parking." How do we know this? Retail analytics firm ShopperTrak says that Super Saturday will be the second busiest shopping day of the season, ranking behind only Black Friday for foot traffic. And Deloitte retail analyst Ramesh Swamy says that shoppers will be out in force this weekend.
"There's still la lot of pent up demand, but I think this is going to be a big weekend," he says. "Christmas was on a Sunday last year and Saturday the year before, but this year we have a real Super Saturday and a full weekend of shopping."
You might be able to beat some of the crowds by shopping on Friday or Sunday, but don't think that the malls will be empty those days – both Friday and Sunday also crack the top five busiest shopping days in ShopperTrak's projections.
If the prospect of going to the mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year is horrifying to you, then you can always shop online. But beware: While free shipping is now widespread on retail sites, packages usually takes several days to arrive, which means it won't get there in time for Christmas. Most of the shipping deadlines for standard shipping have already passed.
So what are your options? You could just bite the bullet and pay for expedited shipping. You could find one of the few sites that offer expedited shipping for free –Amazon, for instance, offers free one-day shipping on select items. You could also take advantage of Amazon Prime or ShopRunner, a couple of services that allow you to get free two-day shipping on a variety of online retailers. Your options are getting scarce, but you're not completely out of luck just yet.
Earlier this month we put together a list of the hottest toys of the holiday season, but we have bad news: This late in the season, a lot of those best-sellers may be gone from the shelves.
So what's your fallback if all the best toys are gone, or if you're just out of good ideas for gifts? Well, there's no shame in turning to gift cards as a last resort – in fact, they're listed in one survey as the most-desired gift of the season. We've put together a list of the most popular gift cards, and these are a lot less likely to be sold out when you hit the stores on Christmas Eve.
Instead of buying a bunch of stuff for the holidays, why not contribute to a meaningful cause? Giving a monetary gift to charity is a great alternative to the relentless consumerism of the shopping season, and will make gifter and giftee feel nice about themselves. And of course, it will take the money you were going to spend on DVDs and gift cards and give it to someone who actually needs it.
It's also a great option for procrastinators. Since you're not buying anything, you don't need to go to the mall or wait for a package to arrive. Instead of feeling like an idiot for waiting until the last minute, instead you come out feeling like a thoughtful and responsible member of society. Here are a few charities to get you started.
With plenty of procrastinators putting their shopping off until the last minute, retailers will be making with the bargains to compete for your dollars. Here are a few last-minute sales to take advantage of in these last few days of the season:
- Walmart has a bunch of last-minute online deals, including a 32-inch Sceptre TV marked down from $249.99 to $197. You'll need to get expedited shipping to get it in time for Christmas Eve, but your best bet there is to get free store pickup.
- Target has a special circular for its last-minute sales, which run through Christmas Eve. Deals include a free $30 Target gift card when you buy a Keurig coffee system for $150, as well as $20 gift cards thrown in when you get an Xbox 360 or Nook Simple Touch.
- Best Buy has declared itself your "Procrastination Destination." While many of its deals aren't really deals at all (a bunch of gift cards are being sold at face value), it does have the distinction of continuing to offer the iPhone 5 for $150, a full $50 below the suggested retail price.
"This year our survey revealed apparel is going to be a top purchase," says Deloitte retail analyst Ramesh Swamy. "Even non-apparel retailers could use it as a way to get folks in the doors."
Indeed, we're seeing a few good sales on apparel in the last days of the season:
- Through Christmas, Abercrombie and Fitch takes 50% off all jeans online and in stores. Note that there are some stores excluded from the promotion, so check out the site to see if you can get the deal at your local Abercrombie.
- As it has for much of the season, Banana Republic will take deep discounts. Everything in stores will be 40% off through Sunday.
- Don't want to fight over pants with other last-minute shoppers? If you order on Nordstrom.com by 3 p.m. ET on Friday, you'll get free shipping and your order will arrive in time for Christmas. And you can continue to order for store pickup through Christmas Eve.