Crowds of last-minute holiday shoppers expected at malls, shopping centers

Malls are prepared for last-minute holiday shoppers with longer hours as a rush of mall-goers fill parking lots.

Among the most crowded mall parking lots over the holidays are the North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, where parking lots have often been completely full since Black Friday weekend, and the Mall of Georgia in Buford, where parking lots have been 95 percent full on average the past few weekends, according to mall operator Simon Property Group.

Crowds of consumers are expected to continue to stream into stores through Christmas Eve. Jim Murphy was among the last-minute holiday shoppers Sunday.

“I’ve been working like crazy, and I skipped a shift” to buy gifts, Murphy said. “I’m hoping to get it all done, but I’m trying to not get stressed out about it.”

Parking lots at Lenox Square in Buckhead have averaged 90 percent full, with peak hours 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lenox Square will be open until 10 p.m. Sunday, and will open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday, Christmas Eve.

Some malls have been less crowded, with parking lots at Town Center at Cobb in Kennesaw averaging 80 percent full the past few weekends, according to Simon Property Group. Town Center at Cobb is open until 10 p.m. Sunday, and open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday. Other malls also have special holiday hours.

Some consumers aim to dodge the traffic congestion with targeted shopping and strategic timing.

Stayce Harris went to Michaels, Bed Bath & Beyond and Kohl’s at Merchants Walk in Cobb County early Sunday morning to do some last-minute shopping and said the crowds weren’t bad.

Harris aimed to start early and avoid malls with heavy traffic. Her advice for fellow shoppers is to “take advantage of the stores open 24 hours and go during off-peak hours ... especially when you’re trying to herd cats or children.”

“Lots of stores are open super-early,” like Michaels, she said.

And among the longer holiday hours, Kohl's is open 24 hours until 6 p.m. Christmas Eve.

At the Target on Johnson Ferry Road and Roswell Road in Marietta, store director Drew Zabek said the store has been very busy this weekend so far.

The store is staffed “well above the normal level,” Zabek said. “Yesterday we were really, really busy and had control of the lines,” without queues getting too long. “We had every register open yesterday and we will have all of them open today.”

Shopping at brick-and-mortar stores is still growing, even though online shopping is growing in convenience and popularity with options like same-day shipping, said John Haber, CEO of Atlanta-based supply chain consulting firm Spend Management Experts.

Same-day shipping is “just making it more convenient for the last-minute shopper, like most men that I know,” Haber said. “It’s very convenient. You don’t have to deal with the Atlanta traffic, which we all know is horrible.”

But, he said, “I don’t think brick-and-mortar is dead. I think it still plays a vital role, and will continue to play a vital role,” Haber said. “I just think it’s a smaller footprint.”