- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2011

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the crunch time of last-minute Christmas shopping are past, but retailers say they anticipate an equally busy Monday as shoppers take advantage of the three-day holiday weekend.

Officials at Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia said they are preparing for more than a crush of customers seeking to return or exchange unwanted gifts.

“It may be like another Black Friday,” said Tysons spokeswoman Elizabeth Natwick. “We’re expecting crowds not just for heavy returns; we’re also expecting crowds to see what deeper discounts they can actually get.”

A spokeswoman for Premium Outlets, which runs outlet malls in Hagerstown, Md., Leesburg, Va., and Queenstown, Md., said the time between Christmas and New Year’s “has become a very important week.”

“The season started off with a strong Black Friday, and this has continued,” spokeswoman Michele Rothstein said. “The timing of this period this year has led us to believe that it will be very successful.”

Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, the largest retail trade association in the world, said this weekend is akin to Labor Day or Memorial Day for stores.

“Stores automatically draw traffic when people don’t have to head in to work,” Ms. Grannis said. “The allure this year for customers is they are off work and if they have a return they can do it immediately … instead of having to wait until they’re off work again.”

An October survey by the National Retail Federation showed that post-holiday returns are expected to account for more than one-quarter of the year’s retail merchandise returns. Retailers project consumers will return $46.3 billion worth of holiday merchandise out of a yearlong total of $217 billion in returned merchandise.

That is an increase of roughly $2 billion in returned holiday merchandise between last year and this year, after a roughly $1.3 billion drop in the same figure between 2008 and 2009.

The increase in returns mirrors a rise in the federation’s holiday sales forecast, which was adjusted Dec. 15 to reflect an anticipated 3.8 percent increase in sales from last year, to $469.1 billion. The federation predicted in October that sales would increase about 2.8 percent from last year. Either way, the increase is likely to be dwarfed by the 5.2 percent jump in sales last year when compared with 2009.

With regard to day-after-Christmas sales, Ms. Grannis said, customers also will descend on stores to redeem gift cards, which is even more of a reason for people to shop.

But the day likely will be busy enough at stores that even having the day off after Christmas won’t make or break most businesses, she noted.

“It’s already expected to be one of the biggest days of the year for retailers in terms of traffic, returns and gift-card redemptions,” she said.