Retailers ready for rush of holiday gift returns

Christmas will soon dissipate into a distant memory, but the holiday shopping lines have yet to ceas

Categories: Schenectady County

Christmas will soon dissipate into a distant memory, but the holiday shopping lines have yet to cease.

Best Buy in Crossgates Mall, which normally has only two lines for returns, opened six on Sunday, and the lines still stretched throughout the store.

According to Zach Catel, the sales operator at Best Buy, these lines are a good sign for increasing inventory for post-holiday promotions, sale and clearance events.

“We take returns into account when we order inventory,” Catel said. “But there are always certain things that fly off the shelves even after the holidays.”

Lexi Cuomo, 19, of Waterford, was at the mall on Sunday returning a pair of dark brown UGG boots for a tan pair — the color she really wanted — and a shirt that was too big.

“It’s easier just to come today and get the returns done,” Cuomo said. “That way I can spend the rest of my break from school relaxing.”

She also said her sisters needed to return some gifts but didn’t feel like braving the crowds.

Cuomo didn’t need to return any high-tech gadgets; clothes were the number one item on her Christmas list. But other shoppers flocked to the Apple Store and Best Buy to swap DVDs for video games and trade in gift cards for digital cameras and iPods.

Catel said that Kindles, Nooks and Toshiba laptops were hard to keep in stock this year, but a new shipment expected on Sunday should replenish everything in time for after-Christmas sales.

Best Buy, like many stores, ordered what the Retail Industry Leaders Association deems a “safe” amount of merchandise this year. In 2008, an excess of merchandise led to deep discounts and decreased profit margins, while 2009 brought stingy ordering and too many pre-Christmas sellouts. This year, retailers seem to have struck a balance — ordering enough to ensure competitive sale prices and large profit margins.

The Target store in Niskayuna had 35 people lined up outside when the doors opened at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, according to store Team Leader Mark Lemmerman.

“It’s been a brisk and swift day,” Lemmerman said. “But it’s exactly what was expected. Lots of returns on toys and electronics, which were our biggest holiday sellers.”

Lemmerman said that one unexpected characteristic of Sunday was that more people bought discounted holiday decorations than in previous years.

“Generally, the holiday decorations don’t start aggressively selling until the week after Christmas, and we burned through a lot of them today,” Lemmerman said.

Employees at the Glenville Walmart said that sales seemed to have increased from the number of customers they helped, but managers couldn’t be reached for comment — they were all at the registers assisting with returns.

Sales have been up this year. According to the National Retail Association, sales rose 2.3 percent to $447.1 billion, up from a mere 0.4 percent increase in 2009 and a decrease of 3.9 percent in 2008. Stores like Toys R Us and Kohl’s reported an increase in seasonal hiring this year to help facilitate the increase in sales.

While Catel couldn’t comment on the exact number of seasonal hires at the Albany Best Buy, he said that the store hired more people this season, which was particularly handy on Sunday when lines of customers were looking for new gadgets and stopping in to ask Best Buy’s Geek Squad how to use them. Lemmerman said Target increased its hiring as well.

Both Catel and Lemmerman said that things were going smoothly despite the crowds, because they prepared for the holiday rush based on predictions from last year. The Apple Store had similar thoughts, and had more employees scheduled to work on Sunday than on Black Friday or Super Saturday.

“I’ve never seen the store this busy, not even on Black Friday,” Best Buy’s Catel said. “It’s been crazy in here, but we were prepared.”

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