Gifts for the Last-Second Shopper

Ah, the final rush to get Christmas gifts. The crowds, the lines and of course the look that many men have as they fanatically try to fill their gift lists. Let's just call it the deer-in-the-headlights look.

But that's not you, right? You started shopping long before Thanksgiving and can avoid the mall, right? We didn't think so.

Most shoppers are still looking for gifts 10 days before Christmas. Last year, 89.2 percent of shoppers still had gifts to buy at that point, according to the National Retail Federation.

That's right: Only one in 10 folks had gotten gifts for all those on their list — both naughty and nice — a week and a half before Christmas.

It wasn't that they hadn't been thinking about gift-giving. In fact, 40 percent had started shopping before Halloween. They just never finished.

The problem is we are a nation of procrastinators, said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the retail federation.

So what's a shopper to do? Here are some tips.

"Gift cards are huge when it comes to procrastinators and shopping," said Grannis. "They used to be thought of as impersonal," she added. But not anymore.

For women, popular last-second gifts tend to center around an experience, she said, such as a trip to a salon, theater or even a theme park.

"Anywhere a woman would not necessarily take herself," Grannis said.

For men, she said, "The home-improvement-type stores are always winners."

And if you are not sure what type of hammer or saw to get that special man in your life, don't fret: All the big stores offer gift cards. Grannis also suggested a gift card to a favorite restaurant.

The retail federation said Americans will spend $26.3 billion on gift cards this holiday season, up from $24.8 billion in 2006.

Dewayne Herbert, area director of mall marketing for Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza in Atlanta, said that around this time of year, "It's going to get real crazy."

Traffic picks up every day until that final Saturday before Christmas.

"As long they can find their parking spot and get in and if the cash register lines aren't too long, I think people enjoy it," he said.

Last-minute shoppers are a different breed, says Herbert.

"Early shoppers know exactly what they are getting," he said. "As you get closer to Christmas, more people start relying on gift cards."

"Their intentions are to have this physical gift that they are going to package up in the big box," he added, "but as time goes on they realize the convenience of gift cards."

Gift-givers are asking themselves if the gift is the right size or even the right brand for the recipient.

The malls also see a lot of men who are shopping either alone or with their kids trying to figure out what mom wants.

But probably the ultimate last-minute gift is jewelry.

"It's just nonstop madness in the jewelry stores," Herbert said.

Jewelry stores have the most at stake. Last year, holiday sales at jewelry stores represented 31.2 percent of stores' annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

"Jewelry has always been a symbol of love and a gift that sort of is eternal in the minds of consumers," said Lauren Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Jewelers of America, a trade association. "For the holiday season, it is just something extra special to give that signifies another special occasion."

Thompson said that she doesn't think jewelry is a type of fail-safe gift. But even if it is, it is still a very personal gift.

"One of the best things about jewelry," she said, "is that even if it's a last-minute purchase, it's a last-minute purchase that still has to be personal because you still need to know what your wife, or girlfriend or boyfriend is interested in. What matches their hair color, eye color, things like that."

Whatever your last-second holiday rush is, remember this: It's the thought that counts. Right?