A lthough stores throughout the Chattanooga area will be dark and empty most of today, retailers expect a surge of after-Christmas shoppers on Sunday.
Kim Dunbar, store manager at Target on Gunbarrel Road, said the day after Christmas is traditionally the store's biggest return day of the year.
"We definitely schedule heavier at our service desk," she said. "We get our best, nicest, most patient people to be there first thing."
Experts expect the day after Christmas to be a larger than normal shopping day this year since the holiday is taking place during the weekend.
"People won't have to take off work to do their returns, and they can just go get it all done and then spend time with their family," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
Stores throughout the area will be extending their hours on Sunday, opening early and staying late to accommodate the influx of shoppers.
At Academy Sports + Outdoors at the Hamilton Place complex, store manager Lance Shumate expects the entire week to be busy.
"It's still Christmas around here for us, even after Christmas," he said.
The day after the holiday also is a big draw for shoppers looking for deeply discounted merchandise. That's the day when items such as gift wrap, holiday decor and "anything red and green" is marked down 50 percent, said Allen Pilkington, store manager of Walmart on Gunbarrel Road.
"We're really merchandising away from the holiday, getting rid of the gifty-type merchandise," he said. "It's one of our largest transitions of the year, with an emphasis on getting the merchandise out quicker. You sell as much of it at 50 percent off as you can, so there's a minimal presence of it when it goes to 75 percent off."
Catharine Wells, spokeswoman for Hamilton Place mall, said many of the retailers within the mall will have after-Christmas sales to drive customer traffic. She said overall returns have been down the last several years, with gift card redemption increasing.
At Best Buy on Gunbarrel, store manager Jamie Stogsdill is seeing the same trend.
"In years past we set up a really extravagant plan around returns and exchanges," she said. "Now, we just don't have that nearly as much. There are returns and exchanges, but the amount is very minimal compared to what it was years ago."
She attributes the decline in returns to more people opting for gift cards when they're unsure of what to get someone. Last year consumers spent $23.6 billion on gift cards during the holidays, about 5 percent of total holiday spending, according to the National Retail Federation.
Retailers expect sales to be strong throughout the week after Christmas, especially since New Year's Eve falls on a Friday this year. They said they anticipate that holiday will make sales on items other than discounted Christmas merchandise to be better than average.
"Because of the way it's falling this year, party merchandise is going to continue to do well," Pilkington said. "We expect a much bigger week than normal."
Contact staff writer Brittany Cofer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/brittanycofer.