Watch out, day after Thanksgiving. Move over, Saturday before Christmas. There's a new hot shopping period on the calendar, and retailers are taking notice.
Shoppers are falling in love with the week after Christmas.
Increasingly, they're flocking to malls in the days after the holiday to redeem gift cards, hit up sales and splurge on themselves.
Local stores and malls report brisk sales on the Saturday after Christmas. And the International Council of Shopping Centers reported this week that sales in the following seven days saw significant increases.
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"Not only the week after Christmas, but the month of January, is growing in importance," said Erin Hershkowitz, spokeswoman for New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers.
One of the biggest reasons is gift cards.
The cards have grown in popularity and since 2002 have ranked as the No. 1 gift people plan to purchase, according to New York-based Deloitte, an audit, tax and consulting firm.
This year, the day after Christmas falling on a Saturday meant shoppers were off work with gift cards burning a hole in their pockets, said River Park spokeswoman Tracy Kashian.
"We were a little blown away by how much traffic was at the center that day," she said.
It was far busier than previous years, she said. Management set up traffic cones and called in security guards to deal with the crush.
Foot traffic at Fashion Fair was also "huge," said marketing manager Kelly Tallant.
The day after Christmas nabbed the No. 2 spot for foot traffic the past two years, according to ShopperTrak RTC, a Chicago-based firm that measures traffic and sales at 50,000 outlets. It supplanted the Saturday before Christmas, which has historically held the No. 2 spot, though an East Coast snowstorm helped knock that Saturday down the list this year. The day after Thanksgiving has taken the No. 1 spot for foot traffic in recent years, according to ShopperTrak.
The week from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2 also showed a strong increase in sales, according to the ICSC. Sales were up from last year. And the week also took in 1.5% more money than the week before Christmas, when shoppers were rushing to complete their shopping.
Much of the increase is actually a shift in when money is spent. Gift cards are not recorded in retailers' books as sales until they are redeemed, said National Retail Federation spokeswoman Kathy Grannis.
That means gift cards purchased in December don't register as a sale until they are redeemed in January.
But there are other reasons for increases in spending after the holiday.
Returns and exchanges have historically contributed to a bump in spending as customers make a few extra purchases while returning a gift, Hershkowitz said.
And shoppers are increasingly taking advantage of post-holiday sales, said Cora Shipley, owner of downtown Clovis retailers Hearts Delights, Ivy & Lace and Scoops & Soups.
Many customers with large extended families have Christmas celebrations a week or two after Christmas, she said.
"They're smart shoppers," she said. "They've learned to wait till after Christmas."
All three stores saw higher sales revenues than last year in the days after Christmas.
Growing confidence in the economy is also fueling the trend as people get more comfortable spending money on themselves.
Many of the people are buying Ugg boots and other shoes for themselves at Roxanne's Birkenstock shoe store in Fresno, said assistant manager Becky Geiger.
Said Fashion Fair's Tallant: "We certainly have seen people shopping for themselves, whether it's boots or electronics, in ways they did not do last holiday season," she said.
Grannis of the retail federation agreed, saying shoppers are already in the habit of bargain-hunting.
"Hitting the 70%-off sales made perfect sense for those who had not treated themselves to anything before the big day," she said.
Even so, the boost that retailers saw in the days after Christmas this year exceeded expectations.
"It is the best increase we've seen since June," said Hershkowitz of the International Council of Shopping Centers.