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First, retailers opened earlier than ever on Thanksgiving night to kick off Black Friday sales.

Now, they are finding ways to bring extreme holiday shopping to the home stretch leading up to Christmas.

Macy’s announced this week that for the first time, it will keep all of its stores, including those in the St. Louis area, open for 48 consecutive hours on the weekend before Christmas. It’s an attempt to reach out to die-hard shoppers, procrastinators and parents of young children during the last-minute frenzy of what is typically one of the busiest shopping weekends.

Given how retailers tend to follow one another’s leads, analysts said they wouldn’t be surprised to see others follow suit.

Toys R Us has not yet announced its holiday hours for the days before Christmas. But last year, it stayed open for 112 consecutive hours leading up to Christmas Eve.

Target will keep its stores open until 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve this year — a couple of hours later than last year, according to a company spokeswoman. The chain has already started holding extended hours since Black Friday, keeping stores open until 11 p.m. or midnight on most days.

Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, said Macy’s and other retailers know they need to drum up excitement to get shoppers through their doors.

“Our research says we’re seeing a little Christmas hibernation this year because so many consumers shopped Black Friday,” he said. “So many of them aren’t going back into stores until the weekend before Christmas.”

Beemer expects to see retailers dangle some juicy specials to draw in shoppers during that weekend, too.

“If you can turn it into a Black Friday event, you win,” he said.

He added that a blockbuster year for retail sales isn’t expected, so retailers are once again feeling anxious.

While the National Retail Federation is forecasting a 4.1 percent increase in holiday retail spending this year, Beemer’s group has put out a more conservative prediction, at 1.8 to 2.8 percent.

The numbers coming out of Black Friday seemed strong. According to the National Retail Federation, a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites that weekend — up from 226 million the year before. Spending over those four days totaled $59.1 billion, up 13 percent from 2011.

But despite that bump, a group of about 18 U.S. chain stores saw a sales increase of only 1.7 percent in November as a whole, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Superstorm Sandy was one of the reasons given for the lower-than-expected performance.

OPEN ALL NIGHT

Macy’s has kept select stores in certain markets open all night in the days before Christmas in the past. Based on that success, Macy’s is keeping all of its stores nationwide open this year from 7 a.m. Dec. 21 through 7 a.m. Dec. 23. The extended hours also coincide with its last scheduled one-day sale before Christmas.

“What we wanted to do is to make shopping as easy for our customers as possible,” said Macy’s spokeswoman Andrea Schwartz. “That means especially for those who are home all day with the children and need to get out at night or third shift workers – whatever your circumstance may be.”

She said shoppers who have come out to shop late at night in previous years have been festive, sometimes wearing matching shirts or Santa hats.

“And whether it’s a right thing or not, we’ll often see people pushing their babies in carriages,” she said.

Still, Brian Yarbrough, a retail analyst with Edward Jones in Des Peres, wonders how much demand there is for those late-night and early-morning shopping hours.

To be sure, there’s some precedent with stores such as Walmart and grocery stores that are open around the clock, he noted. But many of those stores have bare-bones staffs overnight, with just a handful of cashiers.

“Retailers are trying to get sales anywhere they can,” he said. “We’ll have to see if it works. I have no idea.”

Amid the typical post-Black Friday shopping lull, another issue weighing on retailers is the warmer-than-normal weather, he added. After all, many stores are well-stocked right now with sweaters, scarves, hats and boots.

Yarbrough has noticed a number of retailers already beginning to roll out sales and promotions on coats so they aren’t stuck with a lot of them at the end of the season.

“The warmer weather is causing some retailers to get nervous,” he said. “You don’t want to be selling a lot of winter jackets in January and February.”

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