updated 12/11/2005 6:15:38 PM ET 2005-12-11T23:15:38

With less than two weeks of shopping left until Dec. 25, the nation’s malls and stores boosted discounts on toys and apparel over the weekend, pulling in shoppers who stayed at home Friday after a snowstorm hit parts of the Midwest and Northeast. Still, business seemed mixed, with luxury items and consumer electronic gadgets faring the best.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Saturday that business for the week ended Friday was on track to meet its monthly sales goal. But it noted that food sales are outpacing general merchandise sales, which may not bode well for profits since food has thin profit margins.

Karen MacDonald, a spokeswoman at the Taubman Centers Inc., which operates or owns 23 malls in 11 states, estimated that luxury stores enjoyed high single- to double-digit sales gains this past weekend, while most other stores had a modest low to mid-single-digit sales gain from a year ago. The most popular categories included sweaters, boots and electronics, she said.

David J. Contis, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Macerich Co., which operates 80 malls nationwide, estimated that luxury stores at its centers had high single- to double-digit sales gains this weekend from the year-ago period. But at the rest of the stores, sales were anywhere from unchanged to slightly up.

“Retailers that were doing big promotions clearly had the strongest traffic levels,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, based in Charleston, S.C. who estimated that traffic this past weekend was unchanged from a year ago.

Scott Krugman, a spokesman at the Washington-based National Retail Federation, said he was relieved that Friday’s snowstorm didn’t have a big negative impact on sales.

But Krugman added, “This (past) weekend will tell the tale of whether some stores will be able to keep with their planned markdowns or move with unplanned markdowns to clear inventory.”

Meanwhile, at online retailers, which are preparing for the busiest day of the season some time next week, the weekend’s business was robust.

Raul Vazquez, vice president of marketing at walmart.com, estimated that traffic on the Web site was up double digits this past weekend over a year ago. The most popular item is a one-inch cube-shaped digital music player that’s available only online — 1,000 units of the $100 cube are selling per day, he said.

ComScore Networks, an Internet research firm, reported Sunday that for the 39 days ended Friday, non-travel online spending was up 23 percent, compared with the same period a year ago.

After an uneven start to the holiday season, merchants are counting even more on December to meet their holiday sales goals. With a late Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 25, and Christmas Eve falling on Saturday, analysts believe there will be more last-minute shopping than last year.

Still, the longer customers wait for the best deals, the more risk they take in not getting what they want, particularly in hot toys such as Hasbro Inc.’s iDog, an interactive pet, Playmates Inc.’s Amazing Amanda, an interactive doll, as well as certain hot digital gadgets, which are running low on retailers’ shelves.

By next week, walmart.com will be out of such popular items as the $100 Amazing Amanda; a $199 Kodak Z 760 digital camera; and several types of portable DVD players, Vazquez said.

While retailers aren’t panicking yet, there were plenty of generous deals this past weekend, most of which had been planned. Macy’s flagship store in New York offered 50 percent off on jewelry and had a plentiful array of sweaters that were marked down 40 percent. At Gap Inc.’s namesake stores, which have struggled with sluggish sales, there were $19.99 jeans, marked down from $58, and $49.95 corduroy peacoats, discounted from $69.50.

“There are definitely more sales this year,” said Becky Hill of Kittanning, Pa., who was shopping for socks, gloves and other apparel for relatives at Kauffmann’s on Saturday in Pittsburgh. “And there are so many coupons you can’t keep up with them, but I try.”

Kelly Mitchell, of Robbinsville, N.J., who was at the Quakerbridge Mall, just north of Trenton, N.J., said she’s being more careful with her money.

Gift cards have been one big bright spot this holiday season, though their popularity is skewing holiday sales. Gift card sales don’t get recorded until they are redeemed.

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

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