Bigger sales, smaller crowds

Candice Choi and Mae Anderson / The Associated Press /

NEW YORK — Shoppers who waited until the final days before Christmas were rewarded with big bargains and lighter crowds. But their last-minute deal hunting may hurt stores.

Although fresh data on the holiday shopping season won’t be available until after Christmas, analysts expect growth from last year to be modest. Several factors have dampened shoppers’ spirits, including fears that the economy could fall off the “fiscal cliff,” triggering tax increases and spending cuts early next year.

On Christmas Eve, Taubman Centers, which operates 28 malls across the country, reported a “very strong weekend.” But many last-minute shoppers in cities including New York, Atlanta and Indianapolis were spending less than they did last year, and taking advantage of big discounts of up to 70 percent that hurt stores’ profits.

Kris Betzold, 40, of Carmel, Ind., was out at the Fashion Mall at Keystone in Indianapolis on Monday looking for deals on toys, and said she’s noticed the sales are “even better now than they were at Thanksgiving.” She said the economy has prompted her and her husband to be more frugal this year.

“We under-budgeted ourselves by $400 for Christmas because we just wanted to put that money back in savings,” she said.