Retailers counted on the Christmas shopping frenzy to meet their bottom lines. But with the economy still slow and the nation's fiscal future in limbo, there has been apprehension among shoppers.
So some retailers expanded holiday hours even further and stepped up discounts even deeper.
In Tampa, there ended up being tons of traffic the afternoon of Christmas Eve, from grocery to toy stores. But as the hours wore on, the streets became deserted.
Manager Marjorie Rodriguez said traffic at the Sweetbay on Dale Mabry was steady, but not insane.
"Nothing like, crazy, but I think we're very happy with sales so far," she laughed and smiled. "I think that's a good thing!"
Although fresh data on the holiday shopping season won't be available until Christmas, analysts expect growth from last year to be modest. Several factors have dampened shoppers' spirits, including fears that the economy could fall off the "fiscal cliff," triggering tax increases and spending cuts early next year.
Retailers typically get 40 percent of their annual sales in the critical November to December period. Although the week after Christmas is considered part of the season, by that time retailers are backed into a corner since it's their last chance to get rid of items that have been sitting on shelves for months. The steep discounts during that time mean sales are less profitable.
ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the country, last Wednesday cut its forecast for holiday spending down to 2.5 percent growth to $257.7 billion, from prior expectations of a 3.3 percent rise.
Online, sales rose just 8.4 percent to $48 billion from Oct. 28 through Saturday, according to a measure by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. That is below the online sales growth of between 15 to 17 percent seen in the prior 18-month period, according to the data service, which tracks all spending across all forms of payment, including cash.
At Sweetbay on Dale Mabry, Arnold and Cyrina Hogan were making a last minute grab at the grocery store, with no plans beyond their shopping trip.
"Well, we're just gonna relax you know?," said Arnold Hogan. "Get away from the hustle and the bustle."
"We're done, we got everything!," said Stephanie Wright as she left Toys R Us in Brandon, with her cart full and kids in tow.
"The bicycle, the roller skate, the helmet," said Tina Baker, who was buying for her granddaughter. "But ice cream and candy was on the list, that's what she wants."
Marshal Cohen, chief research analyst at the market research firm NPD Inc., said retailers will have to be more aggressive than usual with discounts in the days after Christmas to get shoppers to spend. That could mean some stores will slash prices by as much as 80 percent to make shoppers believe the sales are a "once in a lifetime opportunity."
"Consumers are going to be rewarded for waiting until after the holidays," he said.
(Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.)
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
Didn't find what you were looking for?