Nothing says "I almost forgot you" this Christmas like a $25 iTunes gift card plucked from the cardboard display near the drugstore checkout. While legions of 11th-hour shoppers will purchase gift cards Thursday and Friday, the wallet-sized offerings are not the hot items they were a few years ago.
Similar to last year, customers are cooling off on gift cards because they are finding irresistible deals on clothes and other merchandise, said Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman for Taubman Centers Inc., which operates more than 25 malls and shopping centers across the U.S.
While gift card sales have accelerated this week, they were slow through most of the season, MacDonald said.
"Shoppers have been able to pick up three or four different items for what they would spend on a $50 gift card," she said.
Marshal Cohen, an industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group, says gift cards are still popular but that buyers are getting them in smaller amounts this year as complements to more traditional, more personalized presents like sweaters or jewelry.
Nonetheless, with more than half of Americans saying their wish lists include a gift card, spending on the plastic vouchers is expected to reach nearly $25 billion this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation. That's slightly more than last year, but still 6 percent less than in 2007.
Sales of Mall of America gift cards, which can be used at any of the shopping center's 520 stores, were slack in November, according to mall spokesman Dan Jasper. But in the first three weeks of December, they were up 10 percent over last year. That could be a sign that shoppers delayed purchases, as they waited to see how steep discounts would get.
"We anticipate that our gift-card salespeople will be very busy over the next few days," Jasper said.
— AP Retail Writer Ellen Gibson
Stores give details on after-Christmas deals
Not shopped out yet, or want to spend that gift card stat? After a bustling holiday season, don't expect to find a surplus of merchandise at stores after Christmas. But there will still be many sales.
Some stores have already revealed deals they plan to offer once the carols have been sung, the presents are unwrapped and the after-Christmas shopping begins on Sunday.
Discount chain Target Corp., which opens at 7 a.m. Sunday, will offer $10 off video games like "Just Dance 2," "Donkey King Country Returns" and "Disney Epic Mickey." It will also offer 50 percent off many DVD and Blu-ray movies, and 30 percent or more off toys including Lego sets, Nerf blasters and VTech software. The deals are good Sunday through Jan. 1.
Toys R Us, which opens at 9 a.m., will begin a "Buy one, get one 50 percent off" deal off all video games, movies, Leapster and Leapster Explorer Software, VTech V.Reader and Mobigo Software and Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Software, among other products. It will offer a "Buy two, get the third free" sale on Lego Duplo construction sets and Little Tikes Sports, Wheels and Outdoor items.
It is also offering a $50 gift card with any $299.99 Xbox 360 250GB System and a $20 gift card with any Nintendo DSi $149.99 or DSiXL for $169.99. The sales begin Sunday through Jan. 1.
Sears, which opens at 7 a.m., will offer some Sunday-only sales, including a Kenmore Elite 28-cubic-foot refrigerator for $1,399.99, $950 off the original price, when shoppers use a Sears card. It is also offering $399.99 RCA 32-inch LCD HDTV for $297 as well as discounts on items like underwear and jewelry.
— AP Retail Writer Mae Anderson
Have a Snoop Dogg Christmas: Rapper reads Christmas classic for Pepsi
Not feeling the holiday cheer yet? Maybe rapper Snoop Dogg reading a Christmas classic will change that.
Pepsico Inc. has produced a video of the musician — wearing a Christmas sweater, Santa hat and fur coat — reading his rendition of the Christmas poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to promote Pepsi Max.
In the ad, Snoop tells the story of how Santa tires of warm milk and chocolate chip cookies but "It was still all good," since Santa, according to Snoop's rendition, goes to a crib on the East side where he pops out of a chimney, sees some Pepsi Max and releases an expletive.
"Santa cursed? Seems out of character," says the Pepsi delivery man character who appears in the video.
Santa pours the soft drink into what appears to be a pimp chalice and gives the child who left him the drink two turntables, a microphone and some backup dancers.
Snoop Dogg has worked with the drink maker for several months, appearing in several ads and viral videos. This latest video was viewed more than 90,000 times in its first three days online.
The video is at http://bit.ly/g27eRz
— AP Retail Writer Sarah Skidmore
Pearle Vision's collecting glasses for the needy
Eyewear company Pearle Vision is urging customers to help give a gift of better vision to needy people for the holidays.
Pearle Vision is accepting used glasses that are in still in good shape at its some 800 locations in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. It also will donate $1, up to $5,000, for every "Like" on its Facebook page in December to the OneSight foundation, which gives out eyewear and supports eye clinics, vision research and other services.
The charitable organization is through Pearle's parent, Italian eyewear maker Luxottica, whose North American headquarters is in suburban Cincinnati.
— AP Business Writer Dan Sewell