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Last-minute shoppers reflect season’s mixed forecasts

Shoppers on the Magnificent Mile at noon on Christmas Eve were enjoying their deadline-driven treks to stores, even in a dreary rainfall.

Their varied reasons for waiting until the last full shopping day reflected trends that analysts say denote this holiday season: More average Americans are worried about being financially squeezed, while affluent households are snapping up clothes and jewelry for holiday parties.

Jamell  Lincoln, a 21-year-old FedEx package hauler who lives in Lake View, said he was waiting on payday and for his girlfriend to make up her mind about a gift.

“I’m just bad at gifts,” he said, as his girlfriend, 20-year-old Kate Gravel, a recent cosmetology school graduate, conceded that she changed her mind three times before settling on her request.

Lincoln had been more prompt about buying his mom a Christmas gift — a TV set at BestBuy.com.

He said he buys most of his clothes and electronics online, especially since he endures long waits while Gravel regularly shops for hours in brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Lincoln’s situation reflects results of retail analyst Britt Beemer, chairman and CEO of America’s Research Group.

His latest research on Black Friday weekend revealed that 27 percent of the 1,000 respondents said they still had to do Christmas shopping because they had so little time, and part of the reason was because of their working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

“In past years, lack of time would be the answer for 10 to 15 percent of the respondents, but this year people said they had to take overtime if they could get it, and 26 percent said they make less today than they did a year ago because their work hours were cut or they had endured some other economic hardship,” said Beemer, who has forecast holiday sales will be up 2.2 percent to 2.8 percent from last year.

Other researchers have predicted sales increases ranging from a 4.1 percent (the National Retail Federation) increase, to $616.9 billion, to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ estimate that households making less than $50,000 a year will cut their holiday spending by 13 percent, to an average of $377 per household, while those making more than $50,000 annually will spend 1 percent less, making for an average $978 outlay.

Meanwhile, holiday sales online were projected to soar as shoppers looked for bargains. The first 51 days of the November-December holiday season recorded a 15 percent jump in e-commerce spending from desktop computers from last year, to $48.3 billion, according to online shopper tracking company ComScore. Online sales jumped 18 percent from Dec. 15-21, to $5.8 billion in desktop spending, from the last full week before Christmas last year, the ComScore data showed.

Elizabeth Jia, a business consultant who lives in the River North neighborhood, had bought an umbrella at Nordstrom to fend off the rain during her shopping trek on Wednesday, as she looked for cashmere sweaters for her friends in Chicago. She had already shipped off holiday gifts to her family in Beijing, China, on Nov. 31.

Jia was headed to Neiman Marcus for the sweaters after purchasing fashion eyelashes to wear to a party later in the evening hosted by friends who are Jewish. Jia said she had converted to Judaism — her boyfriend’s religion — but that she celebrates all the season’s holidays.

She said she liked the fact that the last-minute Michigan Avenue crowd was sparse, so it didn’t feel onerous.

Beemer’s research shows luxury stores, such as Neiman Marcus, are expected to see nearly twice the business as a year ago — 10.2 percent of shoppers said they intend to shop at high-end retailers versus 5.3 percent last year.

Another big fan of last-minute shopping was Robyn Chapman.

Chapman said she refuses to shop online, even though she pays bills via the Internet, because she loves the intimacy of feeling and seeing store merchandise and being around other people celebrating the holiday.

“You can’t get all this cheeriness online,” she said, flashing a big smile as she pulled her hood up against the rain outside the Walgreens store at Michigan and Chicago avenues.

Chapman, a 40-year-old purchasing agent from Schaumburg, upended her routine by spending an hour on public transportation to get downtown — 45 minutes on the Metra train and another 20 on the No. 151 CTA bus — to shop for her boyfriend and get her holiday spirit boost.

“I love all the people and the Christmas spirit,” she said. “We’re supposed to be happy.”