Walmart on Ledo Road devoted multiple registered to handling customers needing to make gift returns the day after Christmas. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Shoppers returning gifts the day after Christmas has grown into somewhat of a holiday tradition as residents from all over Southwest Georgia filled stores throughout the area to return or exchange unwanted gifts.
This phenomenon is not unique to Albany as retailers across the country dealt with heavy traffic from customers looking to return unwanted or unneeded Christmas gifts as soon as the holiday ended.
The Better Business Bureau estimates nearly one third of those receiving Christmas gifts nationwide will return at least one item this year. With many making those returns on December 26, crowds popped up in stores around the country, including in Albany.
People began arriving at places like Walmart, Target and Albany Mall, early the morning after Christmas, hoping to get in and out of stores without dealing with large crowds.
“I always come the day after Christmas and early,” said Wendy Hall of Albany. “I just want to get it over with and not deal with crowds.”
Hall, who said returning gifts the day after the holiday has become part of her Christmas tradition, marked the end of her busy shopping season with her annual retail trip.
“I had a good Christmas, but I’m glad it’s over,” Hall said. “I’m a shopper and Christmas gets expensive.”
Hall, who was returning items at four different stores in Albany Mall, said she was mainly exchanging items for herself, but also had to exchange some jeans she gave to her sister.
“The first reason I have to return them is they were too small,” Hall said. “The second reason is my sister already had these pants. I’m going to get her another pair of jeans, just a different look. She said, ‘I want the ones you’ve got on.’ So I’m going to get her a pair.”
Darius Wheeler and his family began trips to return or exchange items, but used the opportunity to spend some Christmas gift money and seek out sale items as well.
“We end up shopping the day after Christmas most years because we always have to return a few things,” Wheeler said. “My wife needs to swap out some clothes and my son wants to spend some of his Christmas money. I just go to be with them, but I end up buying stuff too, cause there’s always some good deals out there.”
Deals are what usually brings Jessica Thompson out the day after Christmas, too. This year she was hoping to find a new pre-lit Christmas tree at Walmart because the lights on her tree started to go out this year.
“The lights died on our tree, so I figured I’d hit Walmart to find a new one,” said Thompson. “I usually can pick up Christmas clearance items each year, so I imagine there will be deals on trees too.”
While some have adopted post Christmas gift exchanging and looking for sale items as part of their holiday routines, many people were not happy to be braving another retail trip so soon after completing their regular Christmas shopping.
“I really didn’t want to be out here this morning,” said Michael Adkins, who was on his way to Dillard’s to exchange a jacket. “My wife insisted we take care of it before we have to head back to work next week.”
Kimberly Hopkins, who was waiting in line at Walmart, shared that sentiment, saying she felt she needed to take care of her returns before heading out of town later in the afternoon.
“I’m here returning stuff unfortunately,” Hopkins said. “I’ve got to pick up a rental car and head to San Antonio today to see my daughter. I’ve been in line a minute and I’m about ready to just leave and deal with it when I get back.”
While not one to normally have gifts to return, Valencia Williams said she really didn’t mind having to return a pair of boots at Payless Shoes.
“This is the first time I’ve ever done this,” Williams said. “My husband bought me this pair of boots and I just didn’t like the fur on the inside. He usually does pretty good getting me stuff, cause I’ve never had to return anything before. I don’t know if he paid cash or what but I’ll probably just end up returning them and then going to another store.”
Regardless of the many reasons people had for handling their gift returns the day after Christmas, retailers appeared to be prepared to handle the crowds and many devoted special registers or sections of the store to handling returns.
Walmart on Ledo Road, for example, designated four registers to handling nothing but returns, while Toys R Us had signs posted instructing shoppers needing to make returns or exchanges to enter through the exit door where customer service representatives were ready to help them.
“It’s been very easy,” said Karen Johnson, who went to several stores to exchange items, before going to Toys R Us. “Everything has gone smoothly. I’ve been pleased.”
While the day after Christmas continues to be the busiest day for gift returns, retailers expect traffic from customers returning unwanted to gifts to remain steady into January as consumers try to ensure they don’t miss deadlines many stores have for taking return items.
A considerable number of major retailers, such as Walmart, Dillard’s and Sears only allow returns or exchanges on certain items 15-30 days after they were purchased.