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(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

Last-minute shoppers: Why do they do it? Add to ...

Dante Pirouz had left her Christmas shopping to the last minute again.

The lot at the mall was full, so she had to park her car kilometres away and take a shuttle bus in. Wading through the crowds, she raced from store to store looking for last-minute deals.

The result? Gifts so pathetic her father called her on it.

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"Next time, just don't bother," he said as he unwrapped a T-shirt.

Even though she now researches consumerism at the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ont., the verbal rapping didn't exactly curb her dawdling ways.

"It's just so painful for me to go shopping that I do usually wait till the last second. It's hit or miss - sometimes I do better than others," Dr. Pirouz said.

There's one on everyone's list: the 11th-hour shopper.

Some profess a deep hatred of the commoditization of Christmas. Somehow, their solution is to join the mall pileup on Dec. 24 and freak out that everything is sold out.

"You hate the cost of shopping, the retail environment and the decision making. People put it off and then throw themselves right into the worst situation, which is the Christmas Eve shopping rush," Dr. Pirouz said.

Some procrastinate because the prospect of finding just the perfect gift - the one that encapsulates everything about the recipient - is justifiably terrifying.

Others assert bragging rights: While the rest of us have been squirrelling away our gifts for weeks, these shoppers boast about starting and finishing today, and scoring deals to boot. "Some people definitely pride themselves on being the master shoppers who can just go into a mall, beeline their way through all the crowds, bag the trophies and come home to scoff at all the other meanderers at the mall," Dr. Pirouz said.

But unless you're a real retail pro, the gifts will probably tell the tale of a harried, bewildered soul.

Jane Kops, a Burlington, Ont., librarian, remembers the first Christmas after she got married in 1979. Ms. Kops, now 57, suggested to her husband that they dip into the stockings before church on Christmas Eve.

"He ran out of our apartment, clutching the stocking … and returned 20 minutes later, stocking in hand, containing three tangerines and a package of Junior Mints," Ms. Kops recalled.

Convenience store and gas station care packages are popular among stragglers, as is Shoppers Drug Mart paraphernalia - think value packs containing razors and shampoo.

More entertaining are last-minute picks that veer into the bizarre. Necessitated by an impossible race against time and a healthy dose of wishful thinking, these gifts become the butt of jokes for years.

Marianne Zessler of Nanaimo, B.C., still remembers the two-foot-long plaster leopard her sister and husband foisted on her when she was 15. The beast "looked like it had suffered from the pox," Ms. Zessler said. She would later learn that it was purchased from "the Chinese grocer" down the block.

"They had tied a red ribbon around its neck. My mother burst out in hysterical laughter," said Ms. Zessler, now 49.

Margaret Prophet of Barrie, Ont., remembers a particularly sad last-minute offering - a stuffed animal - from a boy who was courting her in high school.

"Its face was hideous and I couldn't tell what type of animal it was. Ends up, it was a moose. Worse yet was that it smelled like smoke, which was further confirmed by the cigarette burns on the fur."

Ms. Prophet, now 33, kept the moose and likes to share the story "with anyone who is in earshot."

Even so, she isn't exempt from giving last-minute duds.

"I'm notorious for saving bad presents - snowman mugs, Santa candy dishes - for my extended family's gift exchange game," she says.

While the gifts may be amusing, leaving shopping to the last minute can adversely affect consumers.

"Research tells us that in leaving it to the last minute, when there's lots of people around, lots of noise, sale signs, discounts, when it's hot in the shopping centre and you've got your coat and a heavy bag on, all of that can collude to make people really susceptible to giving in to bad temptations," Dr. Pirouz said.

And she doesn't just mean crappy gifts: "You might notice that you'll start eating more or driving faster or you'll be more irritated with your family members. We're not sure what the mechanism is, but the brain seems to be bad at resisting many different types of distractions."

Last-minute shopping also means a heftier bill, said Edmonton-based financial behaviour coach Chad Viminitz.

"The definite with impulse shopping is that you're going to spend more. Our economy is built on impulse shopping. Psychologically, what's happening is it's a time of great stress and guilt."

Mr. Viminitz said busy, guilt-laden families will often replace human capital with financial capital.

"If I haven't spent enough time with my spouse, kids or friends in the past year and I'm in the last minute of shopping, if I'm proposed [with]the $50 or the $100 gift, it's a small price to pay to make up personally a gap I know I'm feeling inside. Marketers know this and they exploit this."

Mr. Viminitz added: "We lose connection to our core values and beliefs and we now become very susceptible to any other stories told to us that meet those needs. In reality, they don't."

As Ms. Prophet, the recipient of the smoky moose, put it: "If people focused less on the gift and more on the time shared with those they care about, I'm sure things would be easier."

Worst last-minutes gift ever

We asked Globe readers for the worst last-minute gifts they'd ever given or received - and the horror stories came pouring in, mostly from irate wives.

Aside from the ubiquitous Chia Pet, 11th-hour gifters were pretty creative with their choices.

A selection:

- dish soap "dressed up" in a dish cloth apron and steel wool wig

- water damaged paperback with the price pencilled in - 50 cents

- windshield fluid, an ice scraper and five Bingo scratch cards - the gas station special

- one-kilogram bag of pink bath salts

- a single oven mitt

- glow-in-the-dark licence-plate cover

- few dozen packages of tan nylon knee-highs and a sizable box of lunch bags

- advent calendar, gifted on Dec. 25

- Lululemon hoodie and American Eagle sweater - well worn and handed down, not regifted

- the dregs of a Shoppers Drug Mart back-to-school pack for teens, including razors and a Harlequin romance novel

- empty diary, with warm wishes to last year's recipient

Compiled by Zosia Bielski

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