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Procrastination nation? Last-minute shopping goes digital

With straggling shoppers headed into the final stretch of the holiday shopping season, analysts are keenly watching the effect of online shopping on different sectors of the retail industry.

"We are a procrastination nation, and this is definitely going to be a photo finish this holiday season," Neely Tamminga, senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray, said Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

With close to 90 percent of purchases made in-store, the brick-and-mortar experience isn't going away any time soon, said Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisory Group. But stores have had to shift their resources as more customers go online for researching the best buy.

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"Traffic was definitely down," Telsey said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "Conversion is up. They're making fewer trips to the mall, [and] they're spending more when they go there."

Retailers have used 2015 to improve the mobile search process and online pick-up options to keep up with consumers, Tamminga said.

"The next 48 hours, this is how they're going to shine: on that 'buy online, pick-up in-store,'" Tamminga said.

Where traditional department stores may face challenges, media companies with robust Web presences can benefit from the online-buying trend, according to Mike Fitzsimmons, chairman and CEO of Delivery Agent, a platform connecting television viewers with products seen on, and related to, their favorite TV shows.

"We're directly drafting off this notion that ... consumers have a smartphone or tablet, and they are using it while they are watching television," Fitzsimmons told CNBC's "Squawk Alley."

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Gift cards, especially e-gift cards, are also a popular option for procrastinators, Telsey said. With the majority of gift cards redeemed in January, and unusual weather hitting much of the U.S., it's an opportunity for consumers to stock up on discounted apparel.

"You're getting good discounts now," Telsey said. "It's going to be 70 degrees here [in New York City] today ... retailers have to move that outerwear."

Those discounts can be important as shoppers scramble to get gifts under the wire, according to Lizabeth Dunn, founder and CEO of Talmage Advisors, a consultancy focused on retailers and brands.

"There are very few hot items, and those hot items have obviously sold out," Dunn said on CNBC's "Closing Bell." "People are left scrambling for things they don't really want and looking to discounts to be the motivator for their purchases."

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Part of that is a strategic move on the part of retailers, said Dorothy Lakner, a leading analyst in specialty retailing focusing on teen, youth and luxury retailers and apparel manufacturers for Topeka Capital Markets.

"This year, retailers have really tried to reign in the inventory, and keep it as tight as possible, in order to sell more at a better price," Lakner said on "Closing Bell."

Apparel may be weak for retailers, but other categories are doing well, Telsey said, from technology upgrades to home, cosmetics, and active wear.

She pointed to Nike, which in an earnings report earlier this week revealed a steep increase in future orders. Sectors like travel and lodging may also benefit from a trend toward experiential gifts, Telsey said.

"Economy's OK, but are there signs you need to watch the consumer carefully? Yes, they're spending on other things," Telsey said.

But Tamminga said not to call the race before it ends — retailers may be able to continue racking up sales into the new year.

"The calendar setup — with Christmas on a Friday — has only happened one other time in the last 15 years," Tamminga said. "In 2009, when that happened, sales were strongest in weeks four and five of December."

With Dec. 26 hitting on a Saturday, there could be an extra high-volume day this season, she said.

"One of the more interesting things to watch are going to be in the days ahead, when all of a sudden, you go from purchasing for others in your home to purchasing for yourself," Tamminga said.