It's beginning to look a lot like ... the day after Christmas?
On the day before Christmas, retailers turned shoppers' attention to the day after the holiday.
Amazon.com already is offering "after Christmas" deals of up to 70 percent off clothes and 60 percent off some electronics. Old Navy is running TV ads that its "after-holiday sale starts early" with discounts of up to 75 percent off. And CVS, which opened at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve, was selling a wine cabinet for $10 off at $39.99 and three fleece throws for $9.99.
Heather Nadler, 38, stopped by the CVS in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday morning, searching for stuffed animals for her children. And she's still planning to do some shopping after Christmas, when she plans to hit sales at Marshall's and T.J. Maxx.
"I'll probably start shopping for me at that point," she said.
Usually stores wait until the day after Christmas to offer deep discounts of up to 70 percent or more on clothes, shoes and other holiday merchandise that didn't sell. But this year, Americans who are still worried about the economy have held tightly to their purse strings. And sales at stores have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.
The pre-Christmas deals come as retailers are feeling more pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what's typically the busiest shopping period of the year. The two-month period that begins on Nov. 1 is important for retailers because they can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.
Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.
Stores had a problem even getting Americans into stores, let alone getting them to spend. The number of shoppers fell 21.2 percent during the week that ended on Sunday, according to ShopperTrak.
Karen McDonald, a spokeswoman at Taubman Centers, which owns or operates 28 malls, estimated that business for the week that ended Sunday was unchanged to mid-single digit percentage growth compared with a year ago. McDonald said business "was just OK."
Overall, ShopperTrak estimates that holiday sales at stores so far are up 2 percent to $218.4 billion compared with the same period last year. That's below the 2.4 percent forecast for the two-month period, but the company is standing by that estimate with a little over a week left before the season ends.
The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail group, also said it's sticking with its forecast that sales in stores and online will be up 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion.
In order to get that growth, stores have tried all they can to lure shoppers in. That includes rolling out discounts that are usually reserved for after Christmas.
For instance, at the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, N.J. over the weekend, Abercrombie & Fitch, AnnTaylor and Express had 50 percent sales. Gap offered discounts up to 60 percent off. And Steve Madden had a buy one, get the second pair at 75 percent off.
Stores, which typically don't discuss their discount strategy during the season, are hoping the sales will lure last-minute shoppers like Rubi Cuautle, 36, a restaurant manager.
Cuautle headed to Target in Atlanta at around 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve after a night shift to shop for toys and pajamas for her three nieces and nephews. "It's so busy," she said, adding that now "it's crunch time."
But some analysts doubt the discounts will be enough to save the season for stores. Research firm Retail Metrics predicts December revenue in stores open at least one year, a key retail metric, will rise 2.8 percent, just slightly higher than last year's 2.6 percent increase.
"Our store checks coupled with numerous other reports from over the weekend suggest the final Super Saturday weekend, while busy, did not generate the final crush of shoppers necessary to save this holiday season from being `ho-hum,'" said Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics.