Shopping strong on last Sunday before Christmas

December 18, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Experts say less than half of Americans have finished their Christmas shopping, so it's going to be a busy week ahead.

The expectations for this year's holiday season appear to be on the upswing from what they were a few months ago, which is certainly good news for retailers who are hoping to rope in holiday shoppers in these last few days before Christmas.

Christmas is a week away and with all the big shopping days past us, sales are still going strong. Michigan Avenue was packed Sunday night, with a lot of last minute shoppers, and others just looking for a good deal.

"To be honest, today is the first day that I've started, so I have to kind of shake a leg and keep moving," said Tina Paterson on Sunday.

In fact, people are shopping enough that most forecasters are revising their holiday numbers.

The National Retail Federation now expects sales to rise 3.8 percent, up from the 2.8 percent forecast it made in October. John Chikow, president of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, says retailers there are right on track.

"It's a combination of gift buying and self-gifting," said Chikow. "I've talked to a couple of people that said that the items that are doing as well or better than last year are things that you would buy for yourself."

This time of year, the downtown Chicago area also benefits greatly from international tourism - people who come here specifically for deals and brands they can't find in their home countries. Jane Island flew in from the U.K. just to shop.

"It's going fabulous, to the point that my card got declined because they reckoned I've been in too many shops - it was too short a space, a period, so they stopped everything," said Island.

Still despite the better than expected shopping season, it isn't exactly stellar either. Last year's sales will probably remain higher than this year's. Most shoppers we spoke to Sunday said they are spending about the same or less, but not one said they would spend more.

"I think that people realize it is so much about stuff, it's about other things, but what I buy is quantity, and it's well thought out," said Melinda Jakovich.

Another factor boosting sales this week in Chicago is that this year Hanukah, which starts on Tuesday, falls late, so there is increased shopping for that as well.

Another sign of increased confidence on the part of retailers is that there has not been a lot of deep discounting going on before Christmas. One shopper said that she was surprised that there were not even better sales than there are.

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