ALGONQUIN – About nine hours after Christmas concluded, Melissa Cooney was looking toward Christmas 2013.
“We had very little to do leading up to Christmas,” said Cooney, who was hoping Wednesday to accomplish a significant portion of her shopping for next year – a strategy she implemented last year. “We were done by Thanksgiving.”
Cooney, of Woodstock, was at the Algonquin Commons on Wednesday morning, joining a rush of day-after-Christmas shoppers looking to take advantage of the day’s sales. Others hit local stores with gift cards in hand or carrying bags of items to return.
The year’s holiday shopping rush hasn’t stopped yet. Many retailers experienced a steady stream of customers Wednesday. Others tempered their expectations for the weekdays after Christmas, but they prepared for a busy weekend.
Pete Gill, spokesman of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said sales in the days after Christmas could match or exceed earlier weeks in December.
“I think this whole week is going to be pretty big,” Gill said. “One of the reasons I say that is gift cards were big during the holiday season.”
Nationally, holiday sales were down – in fact, the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession.
Sales for the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent compared with last year, according to a MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report. That’s below the healthy 3 percent to 4 percent growth that analysts had expected – and the worst year-over-year performance since 2008, when spending shrank sharply during the Great Recession.
Holiday sales are a crucial indicator of the economy’s strength. November and December account for up to 40 percent of annual revenue for many retailers. If those sales don’t materialize, stores are forced to offer steeper discounts. That’s a boon for shoppers but cuts into stores’ profits.
But stores still have time to make up lost ground. The final week of December accounts for about 15 percent of the month’s sales, said Michael McNamara, vice president for research and analysis at MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.
Wendy Pinkley, assistant manager of Pottery Barn in Algonquin Commons, said she expected the store to stay busy through the weekend, but the day after Christmas is typically among the biggest shopping days of the year.
“People are always in after the holidays,” she said. “It’s a big day for gift card redemption because people feel that they can get more for their money because everything is on sale.”
Pottery Barn marks down Christmas decorations the day after Christmas.
“We’re not doing any returns,” said Gwen Bernstein of East Dundee, who was at Pottery Barn on Wednesday morning. “But we’re trying to get next year’s Christmas lined up.”
Bernstein said she also was planning to visit Target and Sports Authority.
Ryan Hiller of Rockford was at the Commons exchanging a suit jacket. He also checked out the sales, although he didn’t find much.
“Nothing really,” he said. “Just what you’d expect – Christmas stuff.”
Brad Unterberger, a manager of The Gap at the Commons, said the week after Christmas is steady but not overwhelming. The store marks down all sale items an additional 50 percent the day after Christmas.
“Sale stuff is there, but are people coming to shop or are they coming to return?” Unterberger said.
He said the store sold a lot of gift cards this year, and he expects to get some people in to redeem those cards in the coming days. But some will choose to use their gift cards online or at other locations, he added.
The store will begin switching out the Christmas clothing line today, Unterberger said. He expected this weekend to be busier than the week.
After that, the retail world returns to normalcy.
“When everyone goes back to school and people go back to work, everything settles down,” Pinkley said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this article.