2005's Busiest Shopping Hour

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When it comes to holiday shopping, this might be the year of the procrastinator.

The busiest shopping hour of the year won't likely happen on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but rather the afternoon of Christmas Eve, according to an annual analysis conducted by MasterCard International Inc.

MasterCard predicts the busiest hour of shopping this year will be 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EST on Dec. 24.

The analysis also found that shopping in the evening and morning hours is the best way to avoid long lines and crowded parking lots, said Linda Locke, a spokeswoman for MasterCard International.

MasterCard analyzes about 900 million credit card transactions each November and December to gauge shopping patterns for the next holiday season. This year, it also conducted a consumer survey and found that respondents wanted to reduce the time they spend shopping, Locke said.

Michael Niemira, chief economist with the International Council of Shopping Centers trade group, said the Saturday before Christmas -- which falls on a Sunday this year -- became the biggest annual shopping day about 15 years ago.

Retailers are trying to boost shopping the day after Thanksgiving with big sales and early openings, which could siphon some shopping from Christmas Eve. But regardless of when the shopping happens, Niemira posed another query: "I guess the question is: Do we care?"