Retailers hope to eke out more sales after so-so holiday season

Fueled by returns and discounts, day after Christmas among top shopping days of year

December 26, 2013|By Colin Campbell and Krishana Davis, Baltimore Sun Media Group

Reggie Arthur pulled an electric Razor scooter he'd bought his 8-year-old granddaughter, Shay Divers, for Christmas into the Mondawmin Mall Target store Thursday.

The scooter — bright purple, her favorite color — was great, Arthur said, but it had a defective back wheel.

Arthur and his granddaughter were two of the thousands of area shoppers lured back to stores the day after Christmas to return gifts, cash in gift cards and look for bargains. The stores, many with expanded hours, are hoping to attract shoppers this week to remedy what has been a so-so holiday season.

National retail sales rose a "decent" 2.3 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 in holiday-related categories such as apparel, electronics and jewelry, according to a Thursday report from MasterCard SpendingPulse. A late Thanksgiving, which reduced the number of shopping days, and a series of winter storms put retailers at a disadvantage, leading to modest growth. Many stores are trying to make up for lost time with post-holiday deals.

Old Navy was offering up to 75 percent off Thursday. Target had a big red clearance banner offering 60 percent savings on "hundreds of items" while supplies last. Sears listed up to half-off deals in several categories.

The day after Christmas and this Saturday are expected to be among the top 10 shopping days of the year for sales, according to retail data firm ShopperTrak.

Although brick-and-mortar stores experienced modest gains, e-commerce had a banner year, MasterCard reported. had its best holiday season ever, with 36.8 million items sold on the site on Cyber Monday alone. Its Prime service saw more than 1 million new users, the company said.

The post-holiday rush required a bit of staff shuffling at the Mondawmin Target. On a normal day, three or four employees staff the returns desk; after Christmas, that number might double, said Marvin Jones, executive team leader for guest experience.

"It makes you wish you could double the size of this area," he said, pointing to the busy customer service desk.

Behind the counter, employees quickly sorted returned items into eight shopping carts lined up in a row. If the items are in good shape, they are restocked on the shelves. If not, they are taken to a central return center and donated if they cannot be resold.

Jones and Catherine Turner, an executive team leader for softlines, such as clothes and accessories, said they often see people bringing back the items they bought the night before.

"They bought it Christmas Eve, and guess what? It doesn't fit," Jones said.

Nearly $1,000 worth of items had been returned to the Mondawmin store, Turner said, and that was before the peak hours of 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

The most commonly returned items tend to be electronics and clothes, which are also the most common purchases, she said.

That's not just the case at Target. Michelle Durastanti, 43, of Forest Hill took her daughter, Gabby, 14, to Harford Mall to return a shirt she had bought for her at Hollister.

"I didn't really like the shirt," Gabby said, opening the gift box to show the navy shirt. "I do wear Hollister, but I just didn't like the style."

At the Bel Air Target, Jenny Martz, 47, stood in line to exchange Nook e-reader tablets she had given her children.

"I thought I bought the ones with the light," said Martz, who lives in Bel Air. "I brought the plain one that doesn't have a light, so they can't use it if it is kind of dark."

Jones, the Mondawmin store employee, said it doesn't bother him to see so many items returned, as long as the customer has a good experience with the transaction.

Arthur, who had bought his granddaughter's purple scooter online, planned to get a replacement online as well after returning the defective one to the store.

"I called them on the phone and it was a smooth transition," he said.

Tribune Newspapers contributed to this article.

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