A shopper passes by a sign advertising a sale Thursday in the Johnson City Mall. (Nathan Baker / Johnson City Press)
Stores were hoping for many happy returns the day after Christmas as thousands headed out to exchange unwanted gifts or to take advantage of year-end discounts.
The parking lot outside The Mall at Johnson City was crowded but not full late Thursday morning, a few hours past the early opening at 8.
Kelley Taylor and Matt Johnson briskly crossed the slowly warming blacktop with a bag of merchandise each, headed toward the entrance with a list of presents to return.
“This is stuff that I got him that didn’t fit,” Taylor said, holding up a bag of clothes. “He’s returning things for his grandma.”
The couple left their Pikeville, Ky., home hours prior to leave enough time to exchange the garments at the stores where they were purchased and return home at a reasonable hour.
“We might look around and do a little shopping, too; see if there’s anything else we need,” Taylor said, as Johnson silently realized the longest part of his day was yet to come.
Retailers nationwide hope to entice shoppers to their stores in the year’s remaining weeks to make up for lackluster sales during the abbreviated holiday shopping season.
While online sales saw modest gains, shopping at brick-and-mortar stores fell by approximately 20 percent compared to last year in the three weeks leading up to Christmas, retail sales analyst ShopperTrak said.
Because of the unimpressive showing, ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said stores will likely host deep sales into this weekend to drive traffic and improve balance sheets.
Jonesborough resident Deanna Whitaker was quietly browsing the discount racks in Belk, where she said an inexpensive bounty of late-season clothes could be found.
“I pretty much do it every year,” she said. “It’s after Christmas, all of the shopping for everyone else is done, so it’s really all about me.”
For the full cathartic experience, Whitaker took the rest of the week off from her work and went to stores alone to avoid spousal interference.
She offered a few tips to those hoping to nab after-holiday deals, having the experience of the last few years as her guide.
“You’ve got to get started early,” she said. “If you wait until later in the day, then people will start to get out of work and come to the stores, and it’s going to get too crowded.”
She also advised to look for cold-weather items, like sweaters or jackets, that stores are more motivated to discount to sell off to make room for spring merchandise.