Last-Minute Holiday Shopping Could Beat Black Friday

The days just before Christmas will be some of the biggest shopping days this year.

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Procrastinators are likely to fill stores this weekend.

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There may not be doorbuster deals or pre-dawn stampedes, but this weekend could shape up to beat out the Black Friday shopping rush, and then some.

Retail tracking firm ShopperTrak forecasts that Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be 4 of the 10 biggest shopping days of the year at brick-and-mortar stores, as measured in sales totals. And there are plenty of people who still have shopping to do. A survey released earlier this week from Visa found that nearly three-quarters of consumers still hadn't finished their holiday shopping.

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"If you just take Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, it will exceed [Black Friday] by some margin," says Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak. "You could probably double the sales volume in those four days that you would see on Black Friday."

That could be a massive haul, considering that Black Friday is by far the biggest shopping day of the year. Martin estimates that in-store sales totaled nearly $11.4 billion on Black Friday.

The calendar is one factor contributing to this year's last-minute-shopping rush, says Martin. With Christmas on a Tuesday this year, late shoppers have a long weekend to buy their last-minute gifts. To prepare for a string of heavy shopping days, stores have been stocking up well in advance.

"We've actually had, over the last couple of weeks, truckloads of new products and fresh inventory being shipped to every single store," says Sarah Spencer, spokeswoman for Walmart, the nation's largest retailer.

Because Walmart is also the nation's largest grocer, that will make the coming days a particularly big weekend for the behemoth retailer, as buyers stock up on food for Christmas meals.

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"The Saturday before Christmas is the biggest food shopping day of the year. And for us, our highest [sales] day is actually Christmas Eve," says Spencer.

It's not just going to be busy in the mall parking lot. Because shipping speeds have picked up in recent years—and because online retailers are aggressively courting customers—e-commerce could also see a modest boost despite the late date.

"We're actually still hearing from some online retailers that they're offering free updated shipping promotions with guaranteed Christmas delivery," says Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. She points to L.L. Bean, which is currently offering free shipping and delivery by Christmas on orders placed before noon on December 21. And some retailers can accept orders even later, though shoppers hoping for Christmas delivery may have to pay a premium. "This year, extreme procrastinators have up to as late as the 23rd, if they're willing to pay the price, to get that item for Christmas delivery."

All of which means that those who have not yet finished buying their gifts are in good company...though they might have to deal with either very long lines or steep shipping costs this weekend.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.