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Last Minute Shopping

My well-designed plan to start and finish all my Christmas shopping the week prior to the holiday was wiped out by a case of the flu that kept me housebound instead of hitting the mall.

However, by overdosing on Tylenol, cough medicine and coffee I pulled myself together and charged out to a few stores on Saturday, Dec. 23, in a last-ditch attempt to buy all my presents. So with a very specific list of what I needed, I hit the big-box stores.

I guess a lot of people had the flu that week because these stores were packed, but in a very selective manner. Best Buy and Circuit City had full parking lots and the stores were jammed with shoppers actually buying products and not just fishing around for the best deal. But a closer inspection, and from what I received as gifts, it was obvious that DVDs were garnering most of the store traffic. The console and PC gaming software aisles were a close second, but the other store sections were surprisingly empty. I suppose most people interested in purchasing a big ticket item had already done so. Pallets of Xbox 360 and PlayStation2 — yes, 2 at $129 — games sat untouched in the aisles. There were few people in the PC or car audio areas.

Target’s CE department was also doing a booming business, which must have made the store manager happy because the remainder of his building was basically empty. Target customers seemed primarily interested in boomboxes, phones and other small devices.

If this last-minute buying action proves anything, it is that CE products are gifts that one just can’t go wrong in giving. In the past a last-minute gift idea might be a tie or shirt, but now I think the trend is a box set of “Band of Brothers” or “The Sopranos.” I think my theory was, very unscientifically, proven by the low amount of foot traffic I saw that same day at my local Macy’s and Old Navy.

The question I found myself pondering as I drove home was: How should these retailers take better advantage of this last-minute buying frenzy when getting a good deal on a gift is less important than coming home with something nice or unique?

I think an interesting study would ask these last-minute shoppers whether they are simply hunting for a specific gift or not. Those who only want the “The Simpson’s Eighth Season” on DVD probably can’t be enticed into a different purchase, but if a shopper is perusing the DVD section desperately seeking something his brother might like, then perhaps this person needs to be led into another section of the store where different products are displayed.