The News Courier in Athens, Alabama


December 27, 2013

The day of returns ... and more savings

— ‘Twas the day after Christmas and all through the town,

shoppers were running to and fro seeking bargains all around …

In a marked contrast to Christmas Day, the parking lots at shopping centers were jammed Thursday as people flocked to the stores for cut-rate deals or to return that too-ugly tie or too-small jacket.

At the Walmart on U.S. 72 at the lunch hour, parking was at a premium just as it was last weekend — the final shopping weekend before Christmas. Vehicles were parked on the grass entrance and other shoppers cruised around looking for the precious vacant spot.

Inside, though, the customers were at the store for a different reason than last weekend.

Sure, there were shoppers taking advantage of some sales, but there were also lines of people returning presents.

This was the time of the season retail employees dread the most. It seems that returns outnumber the sales on the days immediately following Christmas and Thursday was no exception in stores around the area.

Customers were lined up several deep at the various service/return desks.

At Walmart, however, some checkout aisles were converted to return aisles to help ease the rush.

On the Courthouse Square in downtown Athens, it was a typical Thursday afternoon.

People were strolling along the sidewalks taking in the sunshine and socializing outside the restaurants.

Meanwhile, the stores had their sales of 50 percent off and 35 percent off and parking spaces were plentiful.

But there weren’t a lot of shoppers to be found. There were a handful of customers in the stores checking out the merchandise.

Retailers nationwide were hoping this would be a strong shopping season in the wake of the crippling recession. However, shoppers have held tightly to their purse strings this year, and store sales have fallen for the past three consecutive weeks.

The retailers are feeling pressure to attract Americans into stores during the final week of what's typically the busiest shopping period of the year. The two-month stretch that begins on Nov. 1 is important because retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales during that time.

Sales at U.S. stores dropped 3.1 percent to $42.7 billion for the week that ended on Sunday compared with the same week last year, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at 40,000 locations. That follows a decline of 2.9 percent and 0.8 percent during the first and second weeks of the month, respectively.

Locally, though, retailers said they thought sales were up a little over last year’s Christmas shopping season but didn’t have specific numbers.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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