Toys 'R' Us Inc. will keep its stores open for 112-straight hours -- through 10 p.m. Saturday -- for last-minute shoppers. - AP

Last-minute shoppers find 24/7 deals

NEW YORK — Retailers' final dash to get shoppers' attention and holiday dollars in the countdown to Christmas has begun.

Macy's Inc. will keep nine of its stores in the Northeast region open straight through 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve after opening them at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Toys "R" Us Inc., which opened its about 600 stores nationwide at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, will leave them open straight for 112 hours through 10 p.m. on Saturday.

Walmart Stores Inc.'s website called out Wednesday as the last day for orders to be rush-shipped by Saturday. Its page also opened up to a menu of last-minute gift options.

While retailers started their promotions earlier than ever this holiday season and pulled out all the stops to lure shoppers on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marked the season's official start, winning sales in the last week before Christmas is crucial.

While Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the season, five of the period's top 10 sales and foot traffic days are expected to occur between Dec. 18 and Dec. 24, with one-third of all holiday sales expected to be posted this week, according to mall-traffic tracker ShopperTrak.

This past weekend and the ensuing days "are absolutely critical for retailers to convert sales," said Ken Perkins of research firm Retail Metrics, adding the firm's mall visits last week have found heavier traffic and fuller parking lots but with conversion "on the light side."

There are also concerns that retailers' efforts to drive traffic and sales may come at the expense of profit. For instance, Best Buy Co. last week reported disappointing quarterly profit after a miss in margins.

This week will be even more significant for retailers this year with Hanukkah falling on Dec. 20, instead of Dec. 1 last year, ShopperTrak said, adding retail sales also will benefit from an extra shopping day with Christmas falling on Sunday instead of on Saturday, such as last year.

"There is a lot of procrastination," said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak, in an interview, adding he only just started holiday shopping himself. "There's still a lot of (shopping) energy left in the system."

Through Sunday, 70 percent of shoppers completed their holiday purchases, 4 percentage points lower than during the same week last year, according to a survey by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs.

Sales picked up following a lull in the first half of December. Chain-store sales for the week ended Dec. 17 rose 4.6 percent from the year-earlier period, the strongest percentage gain in at least nine weeks, according to the survey.

This past Saturday, shoppers spent an estimated $26 billion, breaking the previous record of $25 billion they spent in 2007 on the last full Saturday before Christmas, according to consultancy Customer Growth Partners. The amount was just shy of the $27 billion they spent on Black Friday, the firm said.

At Tampa, Fla.-based International Plaza & Bay Street, General Manager Gary Malfroid said the mall is experiencing "the strongest traffic volume" so far this year. "Shoppers are out in full force this week," he said.

Having solid sales this week will provide a nice note to the industry's biggest season that's already turning out better than expected. ShopperTrak and National Retail Federation in recent days have raised their holiday sales forecasts.

Against macroeconomic concerns, shoppers, however, still proved value-conscious and scoured the Web for deals and coupons. Searches on Yahoo for "printable coupons for Target," for instance, are up 615 percent this week. "Kohl's free shipping code" searches on Yahoo this week are up 572 percent, the search engine said in an email.

Retailers are stepping up their games. Last week, they sent each of their subscribers 5.6 promotional emails, up 8 percent from a week earlier.

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