On Christmas Day, thousands of people in the Killeen-Fort Hood area received gifts. But it was the next day before many of them got what they actually wanted.

Local retailers reported a robust holiday spending season, followed by a very busy Dec. 26. In past years, people used Dec. 26 as a day to exchange gifts, retailers are finding more and more people now use the day after Christmas to make purchases with gift cards.

On Wednesday, Market Heights shopping center in Harker Heights appeared to be almost as busy as it was on Black Friday.

Business was steady and lines were long at major retailers like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. But the return/exchange lines were noticeably shorter than usual.

“Mainly what we’ve seen today is people coming in to use their gift cards, which is why we push our gift cards,” said Teresa Zoizack, community relations manager at Barnes & Noble in Market Heights. “On an annual basis, we have seen growth (in gift card sales). Life is very good for us right now.”

Laura Deck, store manager of Target in Market Heights, said she was ready for a busy day Wednesday. She said exchanges are still common on the 26th.

“The biggest thing is to make sure you have your original receipt and the original packing,” Deck said. “There is a date on every receipt that tells you how long you have to make a return. Some items can only be exchanged. All of that is included on the receipt.”

For some retailers, the 26th was a day to exhale before the real hard work begins.

“Sales this year were definitely better than last year,” said Lewis Palumbo, assistant manager at Spec’s in Killeen. “It was a big increase. It was intense, and New Year’s Eve will be more intense.

“Business actually dies off in the days before Christmas,” Palumbo said. “We will be slammed until New Year’s Eve. Today and tomorrow is about getting the store back in shape by stocking shelves and checking to see what we need. Today and tomorrow are recovery mode days for us.”

Local small-business owners also were dealing with larger crowds than usual Wednesday. While most small businesses do not offer gift cards, they do offer gift certificates.

“Gift certificate sales went up significantly this year,” said Dale Koebnick, owner of the Bead Bistro in Killeen, as she balanced helping a store full of customers and answering an incessantly ringing phone.

Erin Shephard, owner of Lonestar Pin-Up Photography in Killeen, said she had better-than-expected in-store sales over Black Friday weekend. She expects to reap the rewards of offering gift certificates throughout the year.

“People are still buying them,” she said. “So far, not too many people have redeemed them, but they will as the year goes on.”

Rudy Gill, store manager of H-E-B Plus in Killeen, said the gift card phenomenon has altered the landscape of doing business on the day after Christmas.

“It is a fair assumption to say that as gift card sales go up, exchanges go down,” Gill said. “If you buy someone something they don’t want, they have to go to the store and make an exchange. But when people get gift cards, there is less need for exchange.

“You wouldn’t have seen that five years ago,” he added, while pointing to a display of gift cards for more than 20 companies near the register.

Contact Mason Lerner at mlerner@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7567

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