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mens prada shoe attributed to energy and food price increases, job insecurity and procrastination. So last week's turnout was welcomed. Even the struggling discount store sector posted gains in electronics as well as in general merchandise sales.A bigger surge in the next three days will be needed, however, to brighten retailers' hopes of hitting their sales targets.Credit card issuer MasterCard expects Thursday will be the busiest day this season in terms of transaction volume. CT on Christmas Eve.Also important for merchants will be the "second season" period through Jan. 31 when most end their fiscal years. That's when added sales are made after returns and gift cards are redeemed and thus can be booked as sales.Key to that period: "The retailer has to have good merchandise displayed nicely not just a bunch of leftovers piled up as well as bargains to entice and excite the consumer," says Marshal Cohen, industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group.The increasing popularity of gift cards among shoppers more than $17 billion worth this year has increased the importance of after holiday promotions to get recipients to redeem them.Gift cards remove the hassle of predicting what people have or want."If most people are going to return the gift, then why not just give the gift card? You don't have to worry whether it's the right gift," says Dhruv Grewal, professor of retail at Babson invitationThe bass music thudded, the photographers jostled for space, and the spotlights reflected off the mirrored runway, dazzling the crowd. I sat front row center, a member of the press awaiting the headline fashion show at the in Cali, Colombia."So, what kind of journalism do you do?" asked a local fashion reporter sitting next to me."Um, well, I do a lot of ski writing.""Skiing? Like on the snow?"Long pause."We don't have snow in Colombia.""Yes, I know. That's why I'm at a fashion show.""Ah." She nodded, smiling politely, perhaps wondering if she lost something in translation.I, however, had managed to become "lost in invitation," that strange state of being that occurs while traveling as you become increasingly disoriented the more your hosts try to welcome you.As I walked into the hotel lobby