Holiday shipping deadlines are receding in the rear view mirror and all the sale ads scream “last minute,” but you haven't even begun to shop. Still, there's no need to pout, because the shops are pulling out the stops for last minute gifters this year, with the most extensive extended hours ever and some hefty merchandise buys.
Chicago is a shopper's paradise, with a full complement of both national chains and exclusive local stores to choose from. We surveyed the options -- considering the stores' hours during the last weekend through Monday, Dec. 24, their reputation for having merchandise in stock, customer service, presentation, no-hassle returns and special last-minute events – and came up with a five-point itinerary for the truly last-minute holiday shopper.
1. Toys "R" Us and Macy's for extended hours
Toys "R" Us will open its doors at at 6 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 21, and they will not close until 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Seriously – you could go out on Christmas Eve and still have time to pick up gifts for Christmas Day on the way home. That's 88 straight hours of toys.
Across the country, Macy's will be open 24 hours a day the last weekend before Christmas, but in the Chicago area, the round-the-clock madness doesn't end with the weekend. The Macy's stores at Oakbrook Center and at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg will be open continuously through 6 p.m. on Dec. 24. The downtown Macy's will be open 24 hours from Dec. 21 through 11 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23, and then 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 24.
The all-nighters will probably not be popular with retail employees, who have already picketed and circulated petitions over big retailers opening on Thanksgiving Day. But for shoppers, the beauty of stores open all night is that you can shop at the last minute and avoid crowds. Even on Black Friday, many stores are pretty empty after midnight.
Naturally, these stores are advertising mega sales during the last days, but Jared Hatch, editor of the Web site Racked Chicago, predicted that even more hot deals may pop up.
“Macy's, Target (and) Toys 'R' Us are really pushing the boundaries of retail business hours and have bought way too much product this year,” Hatch said. “I anticipate the perfect storm for some good sales at these businesses.”
2. Nordstrom for a deep backroom and ready-to-wrap presents.
Personal shopper Gina Gagliardi's favorite store of last resort is Nordstrom.
“They almost always have what you're looking for and they keep a lot of back stock,” said Gagliardi, whose Web site GinaGStyle.com describes her gift buying services. “They also put all of your gifts neatly into boxes with tissue paper and a ribbon, so the only task you have when you get home is wrapping. If they do not have a particular size you're looking for, the item can be ordered until this Thursday (Dec. 20) and guaranteed for Christmas Eve delivery.”
Gifters can feel confident shopping at Nordstrom because returning items there is always easy, Gagliardi said.
3. Target for the Neiman Marcus Collection and price matching.
Target, which will stay open until 9 p.m. Christmas Eve, will match prices from local competitors' ads or from Target.com, which can save the value oriented, last-minute shopper the time of waiting in long check-out lines at multiple stores.
For Hatch, the appeal of Target this holiday season is its partnership with Neiman Marcus, featuring more affordable versions of luxury brands including Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs. The Wall Street Journal reported that the collaboration did not create nearly as much customer interest as last year's Missoni collection at Target.
“The clientele at Target didn't understand (the Neiman Marcus collaboration), thus (Target) has a ton of product left which may go on sale at the last minute,” Hatch said.
Just keep in mind that if your giftee ends up returning an item from the Neiman Marcus collection, it must be done by Jan. 5, instead of within the usual 90-day window.
4. Papyrus and Paper Source for last-minute wrapping.
Many stores offer their own gift-wrapping service, including Macy's, but feel free to patronize a store that doesn't, because you can get it done at a paper store, Gagliardi advises.
“You will be amazed at what work of arts they look like!” she said.