Midnight Madness: Shopping Around the Clock

Macy's and other stores stay open all night to attract procrastinators.

Dec. 24, 2008 — -- When it comes to Christmas shopping, every second counts -- even those post-midnight seconds.

While the rest of the country slept last night, a group of hearty shoppers made a mad dash to buy that perfect last-minute gift at a number of stores around the country that stayed open around the clock to capitalize on the holiday season.

"It's great. No one is hitting you with their bags or shoving you, said Nancy Black, a firefighter walking the aisles of Macy's flagship Herald Square store in New York well after midnight. "The salespeople are nice, much calmer, less stressed. Everyone is in a nice jovial mood."

"This 24-hour is nice for those who can't shop during regular hours," she said. "They should do this once a week. It's so convenient."

Vanessa Kuchler, an assistant academic administrator, was shopping with a friend who she hadn't seen in a long time.

"We can catch up without the pushing and shoving," she said.

It wasn't really about the last-minute discounts but "more about the lower stress experience," Kuchler said.

Desperate Retailers Offer Sales, Extra Hours

This year, 13 Macy's stores on the East Coast and in the Midwest stayed open around the clock during the final days leading up to Christmas. It's the third year the department store chain has pulled the all-nighters to take advantage of Americans' tendency to procrastinate. Eight stores stayed open late last year, and one -- in the Queens section of New York City -- stayed open in 2006.

Other chains are catching on. Toys "R" Us decided to keep its Times Square location open around the clock this year.

This year retailers are desperately trying to recover from what has so far been a dismal holiday season. Established stores are expected to post the worst performance numbers since 1969, the first year the International Council of Shopping Centers started keeping track.

The National Retail Federation said late last week that 20.5 percent of people had not yet started holiday shopping, with the biggest procrastinators being men and 18- to 34-year-olds.

Stores are trying everything to lure shoppers in during this recession. That includes last-minute sales, extra coupons and not closing the doors.

Macy's Overnight Shoppers Boosted by Starbucks

For overnight shoppers at Macy's Herald Square store, there was plenty of caffeine to help keep them awake. The in-store Starbucks stayed open late.

However, there were no last-second photos with Santa to be had: He'd left the building at 9 p.m. Hey, the jolly old man has to rest.

Emily Christensen-Flowers, who works at ABC News, was one of those late-night shoppers.

"This year Christmas really snuck up on me. I completely left everything until the last minute, even missing online shipping deadlines," she said. "For me, the thought of crowded department stores prompts immediate anxiety and paranoia over a lack of control."

So when she called Macy's and learned about the midnight madness, "the recorded voice message sang to me like a choir of angels."

Christensen-Flowers shopped Saturday night into early Sunday morning and found a bit of relief from the normal crowds.

"I could take my time. I wasn't pressed up against other shoppers. Nor was I feverishly watching my purse in fear of being pickpocketed. This was nice."

There were even pleasant surprises at the checkout line, including a cheery associate who offered, "Hi! I can take you over here."

The clerk asked Christensen-Flowers if her items were taken from the clearance rack.

"I explained how messy the store was and that I wasn't really sure. The sales clerk ended up giving me the 65 percent sales rack price," Christensen-Flowers said. "She seemed worn. I think she easily gave me the discount rather than risking a confrontation over the price."

Overnight Work for Holidays Off

Orlando Veras, a Macy's spokesman, said that employees who volunteered to work the overnight shifts get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off.

"The 24-hour [opening] is very convenient for our shoppers from a customer service point of view," he said. "We all have different schedules."

Donna Churches, a tourist from Australia, was among Tuesday night's late-night revelers. She said she was there at night because she didn't have time during her daytime sightseeing.

But for the most part, the shoppers were self-proclaimed procrastinators. There were even a few boyfriends being dragged by force.

Irving Gonzales, 24, was getting gifts for his cousins, nieces and, of course, his wife. So how long would he be shopping?

"A while," he said. "Females are hard to shop for."