The customer was desperate.
“Do you have any nice chocolates?” he asked the clerk.
“Are any stores open nearby?”
There’s last-minute shopping, as in the mall-on-Christmas-Eve-as-the-stores-are-closing last minute. And then there’s a Christmas-shopping zone so beyond last minute it’s more like overtime — or sudden death.
It was there that Satish Gandham, 24, found himself on Christmas morning, empty-handed at a gas station minimart off the Massachusetts Turnpike.
Gandham had just flown in from Dallas, and needed a gift for his uncle. But his options were limited: a Paul Revere collectible spoon, a Boston baked beans refrigerator magnet, a Bruins beer cozy, brake fluid.
He bought two bags of fake gourmet chocolate-covered pretzels — “I don’t have a choice,” he said — and hoped for a Christmas miracle. “Maybe I’ll find someplace else open.”
Respectable procrastinators — people not reduced to real-time Christmas shopping — have felt an escalating panic all week as doors slammed shut. First, free ground shipping fell. Then two-day shipping. After 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Dec. 23, even Zappos couldn’t come to the rescue.
When the National Retail Federation asked shoppers when they thought they’d buy their last holiday gift, a scant 0.6 percent said Dec. 25. That number feels suspiciously low — a Framingham CVS was not lacking for holiday shoppers — but also suspiciously high. Who plans to shop when almost all of the stores are closed?
The Dec. 25 shopper does have other gifting options, of course. There’s the “I made a donation in your name” play. The e-gift card, sent mobile from the driveway outside mom’s house. The hastily written coupon — “A month’s worth of tech support!” — that both sides know won’t be redeemed. The Netflix subscription.
But for those facing family members who demand something wrapped, something that proves forethought, the going can get tough.
“You see people walking through Walgreens and CVS and wondering if deodorant would make a bad gift,” said consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, author of “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy.”
Her theory? “Most procrastinators have a fear of making a big mistake. They lack confidence, so they put it off, and put it off.”
Until Dec. 25 arrives, that is, and they find themselves dashing into any place that’s open — Starbucks, a Chinese restaurant, a movie theater.
“We hear a lot of confessions,” said Nancy Campbell, staff manager at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which on Christmas Day generally gets a steady stream of customers who are not there to see a film, but rather to avoid starring in their own family drama. They buy gift cards or memberships. “People seem harried, and then relieved,” Campbell said.
At around 11 on Christmas morning, the gift card rack at a Framingham CVS was seeing a lot of action. “I’m just happy this is open,” said Richard Bassett, a landscaper from Framingham, as he bought his daughter cards from Macy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.
“I know I’m starting late,” he said, cheerfully, blaming tight finances and a busy schedule.
Maybe the fault is not in ourselves, but in our retailers. Satish Jindel, president of ShipMatrix, a shipment-tracking software developer, says that ever later shipping deadlines and the hope, if not the reality, of last-minute discounts lull people into a false sense of security.
“They make you feel like it’s OK to procrastinate — we’ll take care of you,” he said.
Monique Liburd, 42, had driven up from Queens, N.Y., to see her mother. Although Liburd has had a rough year financially — her full-time job in the textile industry turned part-time, taking her health insurance with it — she didn’t want to show up with nothing.
“My mother is the greatest,” she said, as she scored the last fresh bouquet from CVS. “She doesn’t care if I bring anything; she just cares that I’m coming. But she deserves flowers.”
Sometimes, it should be noted, it's the recipient, not the giver, who pulls a last-minute move. Katie Delahanty’s uncle arrived unexpectedly on Christmas morning, prompting her mom to ask, “Do we have anything we can wrap for him?” and Delahanty to feign the need to dash out for cigarettes.
She bought her uncle a 40-ounce Whitman’s Sampler, put it in an enormous Christmas gift bag, and wrote the card at the cash register. “From all of us.”
Meanwhile, at the Gulf Express minimart on the Pike, Peter Rowley, 37, of Cambridge, pondered a one-pound Snickers bar for his sister, and uttered a lament whose truth goes beyond shopping, beyond Christmas, to life itself. “You always wish you had more time,” he said.
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