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After Christmas begins before the holiday

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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 was selling a wine cabinet for $10 off at $39.99 and three fleece throws for $9.99 on Christmas Eve.

Heather Nadler, 38, stopped by the CVS in Decatur, Ga., on Tuesday, searching for stuffed animals for her children. But she still plans to hit up sales after Christmas.

"I'll probably start shopping for me at that point," she said.

Stores usually wait until after Christmas to offer discounts of up to 70 percent or more on holiday merchandise that didn't sell. But Americans who are still worried about the economy have held tightly to their purse strings this year, and store sales have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.

The pre-Christmas deals come as retailers are feeling pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what's typically the busiest shopping period of the year. The two-month stretch that begins on Nov. 1 is important because retailers 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. 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 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 on Tuesday to shop for toys and pajamas for her nieces and nephews. "It's crunch time," she said

But some analysts doubt the discounts will be enough to save the season. Research firm Retail Metrics predicts December revenue in stores open at least one year, a key retail metric, will rise 2.8 percent, slightly higher than last year's 2.6 percent increase.

Ken Perkins, the president of Retail Metrics, said reports suggest that the final weekend before Christmas "did not generate the final crush of shoppers necessary to save the holiday season."

At least one shopper isn't impressed by the early deals. David Arnold, 43, who works in IT at a bank, said despite earlier "after Christmas" sales, he plans to go out after Christmas because he's been eyeing a 55-inch TV at Wal-Mart.

"For a 55-inch, the lowest I saw of a good brand name was $1200," he said. "I'm pretty sure I'll find a better deal after Christmas, I want to pay like $800."

__

Mae Anderson reported from Atlanta and Anne D'Innocenzio reported from New York.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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