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Shoppers can't get enough Post-holiday sales and gift cards draw customers right back into area stores

Local shoppers were lured back to the stores the day after Christmas, some by the need for new finery for New Year's Eve parties and many by department store sales and the growing use of gift cards.
Ellen Kaminsky, marketing manager of Eastern Hills Mall, said, "There were long lines" at the Bon-Ton store, which handed out $10 gift cards good for Tuesday only.

At Macy's, there were $10 coupons, and Brooks Brothers offered 15 percent off before 1 p.m. as well.

"The restaurants are just mobbed," Kaminsky said. "It's wonderful, the traffic."

Retailers said shoppers' interest in spending Christmas gift cards contributed to the crowds.

"I think you see a lot more of that traffic," said Jeff Ohley, general manager of Hamburg's McKinley Mall. This year, the mall abandoned its traditional paper gift certificates and teamed up with American Express to issue the cards. "It's more convenient," he said.

Nationally, retailers ushered in the post-Christmas shopping season by slashing prices even more on holiday items and stocking up on fresh merchandise.

With the 2006 pre-Christmas season falling short of sales expectations for many merchants, the retail industry hoped that shoppers, armed with gift cards, would spend freely in the weeks ahead on discounted items as well as full-priced merchandise. That could boost business in December and in the fourth quarter.

Federated Department Stores' Macy's opened its doors at 7 a.m. and offered discounts ranging from 50 percent to 75 percent. Toys "R" Us offered 50 percent discounts on selected toys. The toy seller also was showcasing hot toys for 2007 in its stores.

Merchants "are going to use all 31 days in December" and the month of January, said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group, a market research company in Port Washington.

At the Town of Niagara's Fashion Outlets, a mall and shopping plaza of more than 150 discount stores, shoppers arrived by the busload Tuesday.

"This has been such a crazy day. We've had a total of six motor coaches," said Julie Clark, marketing director for the outlet center in the midst of $12 million in renovations. "In spite of the construction that we have outside, it's been a steady influx . . . It looks like we're exceeding last year's figures."

At McKinley Mall, Ohley said November sales were up by a double-digit increase, with new tenants such as Bed, Bath & Beyond and Best Buy attracting more shoppers. He said he expects the December numbers to close out just as well.

After a stronger-than-expected turnout on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, stores struggled through the first two weeks of December as consumers returned to malls and stores at a disappointing pace. Stores did get a late-buying sales surge in the final days of the pre-Christmas season, but it was not enough to meet holiday sales goals.

A big negative factor this season was mild temperatures throughout most of the country, which depressed sales of winter items such as coats and snow boots.

For Seaghan Coleman, owner of an Elmwood Avenue bike and ski shop, the recent rain has subdued business.

"We're just hoping for winter to start rolling soon so we can start having fun with skiing," he said, speaking from his Campus Wheelworks shop in Buffalo.

Based on data released late Sunday by ShopperTrak RCT Corp., sales for both Friday and Saturday generated a combined $16.2 billion, with Saturday's business totaling $8.72 billion. But Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, said he had expected the finale to be stronger; because it wasn't, stores need a good post-Christmas season to meet ShopperTrak's 5 percent holiday forecast.

The emergence of the gift card has made the post-Christmas shopping season more important. Gift card sales are only recorded on retailers' balance sheets when cards are redeemed.

According to BigResearch, which conducted a poll for the National Retail Federation, consumers were expected to spend a total of $24.81 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up from $18.48 billion last year.

In 2005, the week ending Saturday accounted for 15.6 percent of holiday sales, compared with 10.3 percent in the corresponding period in 2004.

A poll of 1,200 shoppers conducted by Kurt Salmon Associates from Nov. 30 to Dec. 5 found that half of respondents said they plan to take advantage of the post-holiday sales.

On Main Street in Williamsville, Leelee women's clothier had some shoppers but not as many as in the days before Christmas, when the $400 quilted vests with fox fur were a top seller.

Store manager Julie DeLoreto figured most shoppers were at the mall sales Tuesday.

"It's not crazy busy. Technically, the day after Christmas isn't one of our better days," she said.

Yet, even her shop was benefiting from gift cards and a "wish list" registry that lets customers pick out what they want so others can buy for them.

With fewer returns to deal with this year, it was easier for the shop to focus on helping women find the right little black dress or satin evening pants for the parties ahead.

"This week we get the New Year's Eve business," she said. "We don't get bombarded with returns. . . . We actually did a huge gift card business."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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