BELLINGHAM - Returning unwanted gifts is traditionally a popular thing to do the day after Christmas, but at several local stores shoppers armed with gift cards is now a main focus on Dec. 26.
A steady stream of shoppers visited stores in the Meridian and Cordata districts Wednesday morning and early afternoon, but at stores like Target and Best Buy, many spent little time returning gifts.
"We were ready for an onslaught of returns this morning, but it's only been a steady number of shoppers going there," said Tim Gross, assistant manager at Best Buy, noting that they were seeing a lot of gift cards. "We've had a lot of people looking at computers and tablets."
Around 11:30 a.m., the line to exchange or return products at Target was typically only two or three people. Holly Hood, one of Target's team members working behind the guest services desk, said they mostly were handling exchanges for clothes that were the wrong size.
"People seem more interested in buying rather than returning gifts," she said.
Many shoppers were struck by the lack of craziness while venturing out Dec. 26. Josh LaBounty, a Bellingham resident, decided to go to Best Buy to buy a few birthday presents for a family member. He had avoided crowds during the holiday season by shopping online and worried that it was going to be too crowded on Wednesday.
"It was much better than I thought it would be," LaBounty said.
Swooping in for holiday items that stores have put on clearance is another post-Christmas tradition, and that department was seeing brisk activity at Target. Crystal Sprong was among those looking at holiday decorations, strolling through the aisles with her daughter, Victoria Sprong. Victoria Sprong had her eight-week-old daughter, Lily, in a baby car seat.
"It's busy, but it is also calm and not too crazy," Crystal said. "There's also still a lot of stuff left to choose from."
Victoria is buying a home in Whatcom County, so she and Crystal were looking for holiday decorations that were deeply discounted. Victoria said they went to a variety of stores, and she picked up decorations at Macy's that were regularly priced at $150 but went for $30.
"I found everything I was looking for today," Victoria said, noting that she was worried because she started shopping later in the day than she had planned.
Though both Crystal and Victoria live in Whatcom County, they are from Manitoba, Canada, where the day after Christmas is celebrated as Boxing Day.
"Boxing Day is much crazier in Canada, much like Black Friday is here," Crystal said, adding that there's usually not much left on the shelves by noon in Canada that day.
Along with fewer people in the return lines, the return-exchange system at places like Target has improved in recent years so it's a relatively quick transaction, said Jon Schlosser, executive team leader at Target. Gift receipts are printed out, and many times the transaction can be found on the computer if the buyer used a check or credit card.
Still, it was a busy morning, he said.
"Overall this is one of the busier Targets because of Boxing Day; we typically get more spending of gift cards and less returns," Schlosser said. "We expect it to be busy for the next two weeks."