Renee and Chris Busby of Jacksonville, N.C., were among the late shoppers in Sikeston Monday. They just got into town for Christmas, visiting relatives in East Prairie. "We don't have anything done," Renee Busby admitted. "We didn't want to bring everything with us so we decided to wait until we got here to shop."
The Busbys were shopping for clothes, appliances and tools at Sikeston Factory Outlet Stores on Monday.
"We came all the way from North Carolina to shop in Sikeston," joked Chris Busby.
But a New Madrid resident who lives merely 30 minutes away from the SFOS said she's put off Christmas shopping simply because she hasn't had time to shop. She just started her Christmas shopping Sunday.
"I've been working a lot lately -- a lot of overtime so I didn't have anything," said the New Madrid resident, Kathy who preferred not to give her last name. "I've already been to the toy store and filled up my cart and now I'm buying clothes," she said adding that she's got about 50 family members to buy for.
In the past few years, the Saturday before Christmas has been the busiest day of the season. Last year, the Monday before Christmas was the second biggest sales day.
Howard Harper, owner of Sears in Sikeston, thinks shoppers are waiting a little longer this year than last year to finish their shopping.
"It's just a total nightmare," Harper laughed. "The weekend was extremely busy and so far today (Monday) has been crazy."
In 2002, the last week before Christmas accounted for 41 percent of holiday sales, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
This year, consumers appear to be waiting longer. According to the association's survey, conducted from Dec. 4-10, 10 percent of the approximate 6,800 consumers polled had completed their shopping, compared with 15 percent during the same time a year ago.
Wal-Mart also announced Monday that last-minute buying showed ''some improvement'' but was not enough to offset weak business in the early part of the month.
The world's largest retailer said that December same-store sales growth was still tracking at the low end of its projected 3 percent to 5 percent range. For the second week in a row, traffic was down from year-ago levels for the week that ended Friday, the company said on its pre-recorded conference call.
Target Corp. is expected to report same-store sales -- sales at stores opened at least a year -- later in the day. Same-store sales are considered the best indicator of a retailer's health.
Traffic and business was heavy over the weekend at discounters and luxury stores. But at midpriced department stores and mall-based apparel chains, which deepened price cuts on sweaters, jewelry and other items, sales were uneven, continuing the trend seen throughout the season, said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C.
Many stores, particularly department stores and apparel stores, had refrained from aggressive discounting earlier in the season, hoping consumers would be willing to pay full price, but the strategy appeared to have backfired.
And plenty of stores added ''unplanned broad-based discounts'' this weekend, according to Tom Filandro, senior retail analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group. Limited Inc.'s Express, for example, offered 40 percent off on all sweaters in the stores.
Personal Expressions owner Teresa McGill said sales have been above normal this year. The Sikeston shop's open house in November brought in 17 percent more sales than normal, she said.
"On the whole, we've been very busy. We always have later shoppers here, especially men on Christmas Eve," McGill said.
McGill predicted the store would have a lot of customers Monday and Tuesday, especially during the lunch hour, but she expects Christmas Eve to be the busiest since more people are off from work that day.
Harper said the gender of shoppers has been split at Sears. "We probably have more females shopping in the tool department, but when it comes to the appliances, both are coming in," he said.
Shirley Kegley, owner of The Accent Shop in Sikeston said Saturday sales were good, but Sunday wasn't that busy for the women's apparel store.
"We will have a lot of people Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Men will be in to pick up their perfumes for women. Women come in, too, especially to pick up stocking stuffers or jewelry," Kegley pointed out.
While both men and women shoppers wait until the last minute, Kegley noted she thought the majority of procrastinators are men.
"Men always come in about three or four days before Christmas and look around," Kegley said. "We gift wrap -- and of course they like that."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.