Popular gifts, plane seats in short supply

Looking for UGG boots? Or what about the inflatable Santa to spruce up the lawn? You might be out of luck.

Some last-minute holiday shoppers are facing disappointment. Stores are running out of key holiday items - and not just Zhu Zhu pets, those robotic hamsters that have been hard to find since before Thanksgiving.

Even sparkly tops, skirts and scarves are running scarce at some stores. Bloomingdale's spokeswoman Anne Keating said that the upscale department store chain has sold out practically of "anything that sparkles" over the past week.

Of course, even ambitious shoppers who got a head start faced some hurdles beyond the toy aisles. At Mall of America, the nation's biggest shopping center, an $85 wallet by popular designer Tory Burch in an array of colors - blue, gold and black - was sold out before Thanksgiving, before the mall had a chance to pull it from its holiday advertisements, according to Mall of America spokeswoman Bridget Jewell.

It's a switch from last year, when piles of holiday treasures were discounted up to 90 percent as a freefall in spending left merchants swimming in inventory.

But this year, stores cut inventories, willing to take a risk of running out of items rather than having to slash prices. The strategy is expected to boost fourth-quarter profits but might limit sales in the final days and even after Christmas.

Of course, shoppers who have a generic holiday list - a black sweater or a flat-panel TV in any brand - will find plenty to choose from. But slim pickings on key items are frustrating some shoppers, who appear to be delaying purchases more this year than last year.

"Stores need to have a good selection" for last-minute buyers, said Laura Gurski, partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a global management consultant. She also wonders how stores will excite shoppers to come back after Christmas if leftovers are skimpy.