"That last-minute shopping, coupled with post-Christmas bargain hunting and early gift-card redemption, helped propel sales at the end of the month," said Michael P. Niemira, ICSC's chief economist.
Kelly Tenedini, 35, decided to pick up some "filler" gifts for her mom and her sister on the Sunday before Christmas at the Target in the Edgewood Retail District in Atlanta. Tenedini, who spent about $400 during the season, bought a sweater for her mom and gloves for her mother and sister that day.
Tenedini, who works in marketing, said the biggest deal she found was for herself: $50 off a pot and pan set on Target.com.
Manuel Gonzalez, 52, from Manhattan borough of New York City, spent about $150 on the Saturday before Christmas when he went to The Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J. He scooped up bargains, including 75 percent off Sketcher sneakers at Macy's.
For the season, he was planning to spend about $400 to $500 for gifts for his three boys, ages 5, 8 and 22 -- the same amount he spent a year ago.
Gonzales, who works at a bank, said he's glad he waited until later in the season to shop: "I am budgeting."
While the last-minute promotions may have drawn shoppers like Tenedini and Gonzalez, they also ate into stores' profits.
For instance, Kohl's said its December revenue at stores open at least a year increased 3.4 percent, beating Wall Street predictions. But the retailer said that the growth came from heavy discounts, and it cut its profit outlook for the current quarter and full year.
"Sales came late in the holiday shopping season and, as a result, were at deeper discounts than planned," said CEO Kevin Mansell. "We are taking the necessary markdowns in the fourth quarter to manage our inventory as we transition into the Spring season."