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Merchants brace for post-Christmas crush
Staci Brown does some last-minute Christmas shopping on Monday at Old Navy on Market Place Boulevard. Retailers will likely be busy the rest of this week with holiday returns and customers armed with gift cards. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Almost as soon as that crumpled up wrapping paper has been thrown away, many people will be heading back out to stores for holiday gift returns.

Local retailers are preparing for a rush on Thursday, Friday and through the weekend as many unwanted Christmas gifts are brought back to stores for exchanges or refunds.

The shopping period will also mean a big uptick in gift cards, since many opt to let their loved ones pick out whatever they want.  

Steve Reid, manager of Super Target on Market Place Boulevard, said Dec. 26 in particular has become a traditional shopping day for many people.

“I think the day after Christmas is always an anticipated shopping day in terms of store guests, one, coming in for bargains and things that will be reduced after Christmas, but also more and more as gift cards become more popular, the redemption of those is a bigger and bigger event,” he said.

“Obviously, kids love presents, they love toys. But if they get a gift card, they’ve got to spend it right away, so we see a lot of that the day after Christmas.”

This year’s traditional holiday shopping period was somewhat contracted, with Thanksgiving not falling until Nov. 28.

Since the day after Thanksgiving, known in the retail industry as Black Friday, typically heralds the beginning of the shopping season, this year’s season was about a week shorter than most years.

But according to the National Retail Federation, despite the late start, sales for this year’s shopping period are expected to increase by nearly 4 percent from the 2012 period to about $602 billion.

“The economy continues to expand, albeit at an unspectacular pace,” said Jack Kleinhenz, the National Retail Federation’s chief economist, in a statement.

That could lead to more Christmas returns later this week.

Bola Babs, assistant manager at Old Navy on Market Place Boulevard, said she and her staff are ready to field many requests for different items.

“The day after Christmas is pretty much returns and exchanges,” she said. “What we struggle with most is just not having products because we’ve sold most of everything before Christmas.”

That leads to a lot of suggestions that customers delay their decisions.

“We recommend that people hold on to the stuff they want to return so they can do an even swap later when the store is more well-stocked,” Babs said. “We want them to be able to get their full value for their gift items.”

She said the main thing to remember when heading in with those items is a receipt.

“We always ask our customers to get gift certificates. But we do struggle with that too, a lot of times people don’t have a receipt,” she said.

Reid said his staff members also encourage shoppers to get gift receipts throughout holiday shopping season.

However, he added that customers who shopped with a Target credit card this year likely will have an easier time with returns.

“Any item that was purchased with a Target Red Card, all we have to do is just swipe the card to see any items purchased with that card,” he said.

As for the National Retail Federation, the organization recommends that anyone wishing to return or exchange items take a few moments to read up on any stores return policies.

The federation’s website notes that most retailers’ return policies can be found online.

In general, the federation advises holding on to gift receipts and making sure to take those when doing after-Christmas returns or exchanges to help save time and headaches.