Bay Area shoppers slammed the malls on Sunday, some frantically searching for presents and others on a well-calculated mission for the best prices. Both were joined in the final mad dash to cross tasks off their shopping lists as the clock ticks toward Christmas.
This holiday season, the shortest in more than a decade, created a backlog of shoppers. According to a national survey, about 32 million people had not even started shopping by Dec. 9, and so desperate armies of buyers will be scuttling through malls until the final hours. This year, it wasn't just the usual procrastinators, forgetful husbands or overworked professionals. Everyone, it seems ran out of time.
"I waited until the last minute," said Pittsburg resident Genevieve Gray. "I'm usually pretty early."
But she made up for it with an early start on Sunday morning at the Sunvalley Shopping Center in Concord, which extended its hours to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. for the final holiday shopping blitz. At just after 9 a.m., Gray crossed her last gift off the list -- a personalized ornament from a mall kiosk.
"I'm done!" she raved, giving a fist pump in the middle of the mall before heading out to buy wrapping paper.
"A lot of people are doing last-minute shopping this year," said Samantha Graham, of Oakley, a retail worker at Sunvalley who sold Gray the ornament. "My house is usually done up by Thanksgiving. This year, we don't even have our Christmas tree yet."
Thanksgiving fell late on the holiday calendar this year, creating the shortest shopping season in 11 years — 26 days, compared to 32 last year. Consumers, juggling jobs and kids, absorbed the notable time crunch.
"I have absolutely no time," said Marc Morris, a construction worker from Martinez who was at JC Penney Sunday morning shopping for his girlfriend and her kids.
Still, many last-minute shoppers were masters of efficiency, arriving early and knocking out an entire Christmas list before lunchtime.
"It's a little bit of power shopping," said Caran Sealey, marketing director for Westfield Valley Fair in Santa Clara. "Most of them are on a mission."
Ed Mort of Los Gatos arrived at Valley Fair shortly after 9 a.m., and before 1 p.m. he was happily getting his purchases wrapped at the mall gift-wrapping station.
"That's it," said Mort, " I'm not doing it on Christmas Eve, as it has been done before."
"Exhausted and done"
Among Bay Area sports fans, there was another reason to finish shopping on Sunday -- the San Francisco 49ers game on Monday, when the team plays its last game at Candlestick Park before it moves into its new $1.3billion stadium next season in Santa Clara.
"In and out, in and out!" shouted one shopper, decked out in a 49ers jersey and hat, as he left Macy's at Valley Fair.
Excitement over the game drove more shoppers to the mall's 49ers Team Store, which opened in the spring. There mobs looked for Christmas gifts to give before kickoff on Monday Night Football. San Jose resident and lifelong 49ers fan Jim Lovett was looking for team shirts and hats to give his sister and her family, soon arriving from Chico.
"I've got to finish it today," he said. "They're coming tonight. I haven't wrapped anything."
While Sunday closed out one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year, a National Retail Federation survey declares that about about 10 percent of consumers will wait until Christmas Eve to finish their shopping.
"Then we're all going to be exhausted and done," said Pam Goodfellow, a principal analyst with Prosper Insights and Analytics, which provides research on consumer spending.
The short season has also created turmoil in the retail industry, as companies wrestle with the problem of hitting their sales target with six fewer shopping days. A few big-box stores will stay open up to 100-plus consecutive hours, trying to get a bigger share of holiday spending by welcoming customers at all hours of the night. Macy's in Union Square in San Francisco and at Valley Fair opened 7 a.m. Friday and will keep their lights on until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.
Malls, too, have extended their hours this year, and some retail workers on Sunday said they were already exhausted, arriving at the mall by 5 a.m. and not leaving until midnight.
"They're pushing us to get all the same numbers as last year," said Eric Brink, assistant manager at Brookstone at Sunvalley.
But while Brookstone's doors are open by 7 a.m., Brink said, shoppers don't show up until after 10 a.m.
"Numbers-wise," noted Brink, "it's not helping us."
Many retailers depend on the holidays for up to 40 percent of their annual sales, and chopping almost a week out of the season could cost retailers about $1.5 billion in sales, according to a study by Adobe (ADBE) Digital Index.
Stores tried to attract shoppers with deals as good -- or better -- than those offered on Black Friday. Fashion retailer American Eagle sold clothes at 40 percent off, and a 60 percent discount sign plastered the storefront of H&M. Department stores were dotted with 50 percent off signs and Victoria's Secret announced a buy two, get one free sale.
"We ripped Macy's off. We did really well there," said Ed Struzik, who was shopping with his wife Marsha at Valley Fair and boasted of 60 and 70 percent discounts. "Today was the Black Friday kind of deals."
Many consumers have been waiting for these last-minute sales. According to a study by Accenture, at least 25 percent of shoppers chose to shop late because they believed the best discounts would be the week before Christmas.
Even with fewer than three days to Christmas, many last-minute shoppers skipped the mall to shop online. Almost 50 percent of holiday shoppers said they plan to do the remainder of their holiday shopping online, the highest percent in 11 years, according to a National Retail Federation. Shoppers turned to websites where they could order online and pick up in the stores or, get same day delivery through services like Google (GOOG) Shopping Express and Amazon, said Mark Moran, senior vice president of marketing for Ebates, an online shopping website that offers coupons and promo codes.
"We're still seeing a ton of activity this late in the game," Moran said. "It's very hard to beat the efficiency, with the free shipping, the easy return policies People just really value their time."
Contact Heather Somerville at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.