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On Long Island, a busy but not crazy last-minute Christmas shopping rush

Last-minute shoppers wait in line Monday at a

Last-minute shoppers wait in line Monday at a Kohl's department store in Commack. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Busy, but not hectic.

That’s the way many Long Island stores could be described Monday, as shoppers picked up last-minute gifts two days before Christmas — the biggest holiday for spending.

While online shopping accounts for a larger share of retail spending every year — it is projected to account for a record 20% of all holiday shopping this year — ensuring that gifts will arrive on time this close to Christmas means actually going into stores to purchase them.

“Today is a big brick-and-mortar day, and tomorrow will be as well,” said Charlie O’Shea, lead retail analyst at Moody’s Corp., a Manhattan-based financial services company.

Amityville resident Takiyah Highsmith, 28, was wrapping up her Christmas shopping Monday, after getting a later start than normal — she bought her first gifts Saturday — due to her busy school and work schedule.

“I’m just shopping for my kids, trying to give them a good Christmas,” said Highsmith, while standing in the parking lot of a Farmingdale Walmart with a shopping cart full of toys and other gifts for her two children, ages 5 and 8.

This holiday season, foot traffic in stores has continued its annual decline. But, increasingly, how customers make their purchases is of less concern for retailers that have brick-and-mortar and online presences, as long as the purchases are made, especially given last year’s weak holiday sales.

And since the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas has six fewer days in 2019 than last year, many worried retailers rolled out promotions that were deeper and earlier than typical, retail experts said.

Since 7 a.m. Friday, most Kohl’s stores have been open 24 hours a day and will remain open until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.

At a Kohl’s in Commack on Monday afternoon, about 30 shoppers were standing in two checkout lines. 

Carrie Reinhold, 43, a religious education director who lives in the hamlet, was accompanied by children James, 12, and Katie, 7. Reinhold had just snapped up gloves and a pair of Christmas-themed ties for her husband and their son. 

“This was the last of the stuff on the list,” she said, capping a shopping season that she’d started in the fall. “I went in with a game plan … Before Thanksgiving I figured out what we needed for everybody,” she said. 

Gabriella Steinberg, 43, a preschool teacher from Kings Park, bought a haul of socks, pants and what she called “ugly” sweaters. 

Some of the items would be gifts, and she’d wear the sweater bearing what looked like an embroidered joyful penguin in next year’s ugly sweater contest at work, she said. She, like Reinhold, said preparation was key for what turned out to be a 45-minute outing. 

“I came in very targeted,” she said.

Otherwise, “you could spend hours — there’s so much good stuff in here.”

At Tanger Outlets in Deer Park, Anthony Diomede, 32, of Bethpage, was doing last-minute gift buying for his parents and girlfriend.

“I’m a last-minute kind of person for everyone, so here I am,” Diomede said. “Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I had no choice but to do this. Figured if I came to the outlet, everything is here. It’s like a buffet.”

'Don't forget January'

This holiday season is shaping up to be a strong one for retailers, but it’s still too early to say definitively, O’Shea said.

Retail sales in November and December are projected to total $733.7 billion, which would be a 4.6% increase from last year, James Bohnaker, associate director and economist in the Boston office of London-based market information service IHS Markit, said last month.

Last year, U.S. retail sales in November and December increased only 2.1% to $701.2 billion compared with the two-month period in 2017, making 2018 the smallest rise for holiday sales since 2009, when the United States was in a recession, he said.

The biggest in-store shopping day this year was projected to be "Super Saturday," the last Saturday before Christmas, according to RetailNext, a San Jose-based retail analytics company. 

Actual spending data for the day is not available yet, but foot traffic was down 9.7% compared to the same day last year, according to ShopperTrak. For the 49 days from Nov. 3 to Saturday, foot traffic was down 7.7% year-over-year.

“Foot traffic should be down given online focus," O’Shea of Moody's said. "However, don’t forget January remains an important month for returns, gift cards, and electronics,” he said.

Meanwhile, online spending between Nov. 1 and Dec. 19 hit $125.6 billion, which was 13.6% more than the total in the same period last year and a record for online shopping for that stretch, according to Adobe Analytics, a division of San Jose, California-based software company Adobe Inc.

Adobe has not released online spending data from Saturday yet, but it was projecting that online sales that day would total $1.2 billion, representing an 18% increase compared to the day last year.

Lindenhurst resident Nicole Zublionis, 58, was at the Walmart in Farmingdale on Monday morning to pick up a few Christmas CDs and small, last-minute gifts.

She bought more of her gifts online this year, mostly at Amazon.com and Macy’s.com, after finding long lines in stores because there weren’t enough employees to handle the increase in shoppers during the holiday season, she said.

“Employees that work in the stores are too stressed out to help,” she said.

With David Reich-Hale and Nicholas Spangler

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