Let the After-Christmas Sales Begin! December 26 Expected to Be Huge Day for Retailers

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What with exchanges and shoppers eager to redeem gift cards, the day after Christmas is always a busy one for retailers. For a variety of reasons, including that December 26 falls on a Monday this year, retailers anticipate a banner day for sales.

Last year, December 26 was a Sunday—traditionally, a day for family time, and a day when blue laws in some parts of the country force stores to be closed or have limited hours. Retailers are under no such constraints this year. At the same time, most people still have the day after Christmas off from work, setting up what looks to be a monster shopping day.

The retail research firm ShopperTrak predicts that foot traffic on December 26 at brick-and-mortar stores will be up 60% compared to the day after Christmas in 2010. In a recent American Express survey, 57% of Americans said they planned on shopping on December 26, versus 43% on the day after Christmas a year ago. More than 1 in 5 of those who plan on shopping say they’ll be cashing in gift cards, while more than one-third (36%) will be buying gifts for themselves—the continuation of one of the season’s hottest consumer trends.

One reason the after-Christmas period is anticipated to be above average for sales is that, as the Associated Press reported, millions of Americans have earlier decided to delay some or all of their Christmas spending this year. Some have postponed gift exchanges because they don’t have the money at the moment—not surprising, given the state of the economy—while others just wanted to wait to take advantage of the inevitable 50% or 75% discounts widely available in the days and weeks after Christmas.

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In one survey, 6% of respondents said they would wait until January sales to do the bulk of their holiday shopping. Shopping after Christmas seems to be soaring in popularity, especially online: Last year, e-retail spending increased 22% on December 26 (a Sunday in 2010) and 56% on December 27 (a Monday, when people were back at work) compared to 2009. The
International Business Times, meanwhile, cites a survey that indicates squeezed budgets—and an anticipation of post-Christmas sales—are causing “as many as three in five UK people to wait until the January sales before doing their Christmas shopping.”

Retailers always prefer shoppers to buy sooner rather than later, which is why, as a New York Times story shows, many stores were offering what amounted to after-Christmas deals of 40% and 50% off—only they were available days before Christmas. One retail executive explained why it’s so essential to unload merchandise asap:

“The inventory is worth so much less in two weeks,” said the chief executive of a retailer, who asked not to be named because he did not want to reveal his store’s strategy. “With that kind of inventory, you’ve got to get rid of it. Whatever the margin is today, it’s that much lower next week and the week after when traffic stops.”

What can shoppers expect come December 26 and beyond? Dealnews speculates that while there will be online deals, retailers really want to bring customers into brick-and-mortar stores, to exchange gifts and perhaps make an impulse purchase (or seven):

Last year, exclusive in-store deals were largely available from apparel merchants, like American Eagle, Aeropostale, New York & Company, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Banana Republic factory stores, Express, Old Navy, and GAP, the latter of which offered a staggering extra 50% off sale items in store until noon. We expect to see such discounts in-store this year, too, so be sure to look for printable coupons and in-store sale ads

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Target certainly seems to be doing its best to woo shoppers into physical stores on December 26. Days beforehand, it announced that stores will open at 7 a.m., and that there will be sales of as much as 50% off. Sites such as Offers.com, dealnews, and dealio.com also have created special pages that list all the best after-Christmas sales.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.