NEW YORK — Shoppers appear to have given the nation's stores a needed last-minute sales surge.

NEW YORK — Shoppers appear to have given the nation's stores a needed last-minute sales surge.

Early readings from Toys "R" Us, Sears Holdings Corp. and several mall operators show packed stores on Christmas Eve following a busy week fueled by shoppers who delayed buying, waiting for bigger discounts that never came or slowed by last weekend's big East Coast snowstorm.

Stores are counting on these stragglers in a season that so far appears slightly better than last year's disaster. The jury still is out, because the week after Christmas accounts for about 15 percent of sales as gift card-toting shoppers return to malls.

"The procrastinators were really out in force," says David Bassuk, managing director in the retail practice of AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm. "But I think retailers needed to be more aggressive to fight for those sales. A lot of people are still willing to hold out until after Christmas because the deals weren't as good."

A Christmas Eve snowstorm in the nation's heartland were slowing some shoppers after snarling roads in the mountain states a day earlier.

At the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., shoppers were scarce and those who showed up had entire stores to themselves.