Shoppers packed into area stores Monday for the annual post-Christmas shopping blitz.
Many stores wooed customers with deeper discounts, expanded shopping hours and fresh regular-price merchandise.
Jean Nowak of Emily was traversing Westgate Mall in Baxter in search of sales on Christmas items such as wrapping paper, gift tags and cards. She said she went shopping Monday armed with advertisements from local retailers, but she also was window-shopping for deals.
"I should be doing just the ads, though," Nowak said with a laugh.
Tabor Anderson (left) and Becky Moen returned packages Monday to Aimee Spitzack, one of the cashiers at Target in Baxter who was handling the influx of shoppers on the day after Christmas. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
She did find one deal, however, by exchanging a gift sweater for two others.
"See, if you wait until after Christmas you get twice as much," she said.
Nowak was one of thousands in the Brainerd and Baxter area who flooded into businesses looking for deals. Others, like Jean Wardrip of Baxter, went shopping to find accessories for Christmas gifts. While not looking for other deals or browsing merchandise, she said she wasn't deterred by the large crowds and often counts herself among them.
"I don't try to avoid it," she said. "I will go out if I do need to look for something, but not today."
Stores are largely aiming their post-Christmas efforts at the growing numbers of gift card holders who are expected to spend their newfound money more generously. Gift cards are recorded as sales only when they're redeemed.
According to a survey conducted by Accenture, 44 percent of shoppers polled said they spend their gift card within a month of receiving it. And more than half said they will spend more than the value of the card.
That's what Shaunna Talcott, a Shakopee resident who is visiting family in the Brainerd area, did Monday, using a gift card at J.C. Penny in east Brainerd. Talcott said she likes receiving gift cards as presents.
"It gives you more of a variety to chose from," she said.
Katie McCarthy, store manager of Kohl's in Baxter, said the increased number of gift cards being used has led to a decrease in the number of returned gifts this year. Of the transactions at Kohl's Monday, she estimated sales outnumbered returns three to one.
Returns also have been low at Steve and Barry's University Sportswear in Westgate Mall, said store director Doug Pahl.
"If anything, people are exchanging for different sizes of items, or maybe picking up three things for every one they're returning. It's been very good that way," Pahl said. He, too, said gift cards are reducing returns because they prevent people from buying the wrong gift.
Overall, businesses throughout the Brainerd area said they were busier than they were last year.
Adam Arnold, owner of Reed's Sporting Goods in Baxter, said the mild weather played a part in drawing more people to his store to look for sales on ice fishing gear and other outdoor accessories.
"Everyone is in the mood to be playing outside," he said.
Kohl's in Baxter opened at 6 a.m. Monday and stayed busy throughout most of the day, McCarthy said.
"It has been just crazy," she said. "We didn't expect it to be this busy but we're having fun."
According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., the week after Christmas accounted for 10 percent of holiday sales last year, but analysts expect that period could account for as much as 14 percent this year, given gift cards' soaring popularity.
The National Retail Federation estimates that consumers will spend $18.48 billion on gift cards, this holiday season, up 6.6 percent from a year ago, based on a survey conducted by BIGresearch. But plenty of malls and stores are seeing far larger increases.
(This story contains information from the Associated Press.)
MATT ERICKSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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