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Dec. 26 store visits are about deals more than returns

TAMPA — Linda Jayne of Safety Harbor stood second in line for a CVS Pharmacy cashier in Oldsmar on Thursday morning behind a man who received a $48 refund for three packages of Christmas lights he didn’t use.

But in a twist for Dec. 26, the Super Bowl of return days, Jayne held two packages of Christmas lights she intended to buy — not return .

“I’m the queen of returns,” Jayne said, blaming her husband’s penchant for buying things that don’t fit the Jayne household needs. “But not today. I’m here for the bargains.”

Savvy shoppers have learned to return Christmas presents and other holiday shopping later in the week rather than battle long lines at return desks, store managers said Thursday.

And the ever-increasing popularity of both on-line shopping and free shipping has added a new dynamic to holiday merchandise returns.

“In the past, the day after Christmas was all about “Return, return, return,” said Cindy Reed , who was overseeing a busy shopping day at JCPenney’s WestShore Plaza site in Tampa

“We have some exchanges, some people with gift cards,” Reed said. “But the past few days, the day after Christmas has been a big sales day for us.”

Reed said returns were likely to stretch out until Saturday and Sunday.

Business was brisk at the Best Buy on Dale Mabry Highway on Thursday morning, but the line for returns didn’t grow longer than a half-dozen customers. Many people appeared to be buying accessories such as cables or connectors to put their gifts to use.

Still, plenty others are poised to return gifts at some point, industry reports found.

FedEx commissioned a holiday survey that found more than a third of Americans will return gifts after the holidays and consumers are increasingly choosing to ship gifts back instead of dealing with the crowds at the mall.

The December 2012 survey of more than 1,000 U.S. residents found that while 36 percent expect to return gifts, 57 percent prefer to do so by shipping them back to the retailer.

The survey also found:

The worst gift-givers are a spouse or partner, at 23 percent, followed closely by mothers at 20 percent, based on the frequency respondents return gifts given by these people.)

The vast majority of those surveyed, 73 percent, would rather receive a gift without much thought, such as cash or gift cards, that they can use to pick a gift they’ll like, than a thoughtful gift they may not like and will need to return.

Most people, 81 percent, say they wouldn’t be offended if a friend or family member returns a gift they gave for a holiday or special occasion.

Clothing, at 45 percent, is the most often-returned gift, followed by electronics/gadgets and toys, both 8 percent.

Most gift-recipients will return unwanted items shortly after the holidays. Thirty-five percent will have all gifts returned before New Year’s, while another 55 percent say the return process will be done before the end of January.

Both FedEx and UPS were scrambling Thursday after failures to deliver Christmas presents on time for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — delays the carriers blamed on high demand from online sales and bad weather in parts of the country.

Amazon.com on Thursday also felt the wrath of Christmas shoppers who failed to get gifts before the holiday as expected, saying Amazon centers processed and tendered customer orders to delivery carriers on time for holiday delivery. “We are reviewing the performance of the delivery carriers,” said Amazon said, which promised to refund any shipping charges associated with late shipments along with a $20 gift card to customers who did not receive packages on time.

However, good weather in the Tampa Bay region seemed to help retailers hopes for a final surge in year-end shopping.

Nationwide, retail sales in holiday-related categories such as apparel, electronics and jewelry rose a “decent” 2.3 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, a MasterCard SpendingPulse report released Thursday indicated.

Overall, sales from all categories rose 3.5 percent. The jewelry sector was the top-performing holiday category and one of the few that improved on its performance from 2012.

Spending was boosted by e-commerce, said Sarah Quinlan, senior vice president of market insights for MasterCard Advisors.

On Christmas Day alone, online sales surged 16.5 percent year over year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.

Jayne, who drove a couple miles from Safety Harbor to Oldsmar on Thursday to cash in on lighting sales, said shoppers generally improve their expertise each year.

“I’m getting these lights for 50 percent off — $13.89 for each string,” she said. “But the first thing I will do when I get home is turn them on and try them out. And if they don’t work, I’ll be doing some returning.”

Information from wire services used in this report

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