After-Christmas sales: No rush for shoppers

It might as well have been any other retail shopping Saturday.

Parking was aplenty. Lines were like those on routine shopping weekends.

There was no sign of pent-up shopping fever - even after most folks in South Carolina spent Friday trapped indoors by a rare Christmas Day downpour.

"Nobody's shopping," Ginger Miller, 42, who works for a large discount retailer, said of day-after-Christmas traffic on an overcast but dry morning. "The normal crowd of people (who are) coming in and jam-packing the clearance aisle, there is just nobody."

Suzie Morris of Lugoff said crowds at Village at Sandhill were "substantially" smaller than last year or even from Black Friday last month. "I thought it would be like the day after Thanksgiving," Morris, 54, said as she shopped with her sister, Pam Ledbetter, 59, of Florence.

A sampling of shoppers in Northeast Richland, Forest Acres and strip mall-laden Garners Ferry Road turned up a similar pattern - cash-strapped customers were either staying home, shopping surgically or leveraging their gift cards to get the most bang for their plastic buck.

"It was already discounted," said Natasha Smith, 26, outside Macy's in Columbia Place mall. "I brought it back today, and it was discounted even more. I got a lot of stuff for nothing."

The strongest turnout seemed to be for holiday decorations, where customers and retailers agreed that shoppers arrived early and snapped up glittery merchandise to prepare for next Christmas.

"It looked like locusts had gone through the Christmas stuff," Ledbetter said. "So people don't mind spending money on some unnecessary things."

Ledbetter and Morris also noticed that higher-quality apparel was marked down more than usual in Belk and other stores where they spent money Saturday.

The recession is to blame, shoppers agreed.

"There are so many people out of work, and they're not really shopping," said Ora Stinson, 59, who shopped with her granddaughter, Caila Boyd, 16.

"I cut back quite a bit," said Stinson, who was grateful she kept her job and even received a raise in 2009.

Still, she told the adults she normally shops for not to expect gifts this Christmas while she focused on the children in her family.

For her part, Stinson said she scouts prices before and after sales to ensure she's getting a good buy.

Of the nearly dozen people interviewed, all said they and their families and friends are shopping discount stores and big sales more often.

A crowd stood outside the World Market on Garners Ferry Road before it opened Saturday because it advertised that all furniture was marked down 50 percent.

Consumer electronics, which usually lead the market in holiday sales, did brisk but not through-the-roof business Saturday.

The parking lot of a Two Notch Road Best Buy was busy, but not unusually so.

"This is as crazy as it usually is on a Saturday," said Michelle Weeks, 27, as she left the store with her boyfriend shortly after lunchtime.

Inside, the store appeared as busy as most Saturdays except that more registers were open and customers paid and left quickly.

Weeks and boyfriend Richard Campbell, 26, said they had shopped online and were disappointed that even there reductions were not very good.

"Discount," Weeks said, "not much of anything remarkable."

That's not what Target store manager Joe Carraway saw Saturday.

"It seems like electronics (sales) were good ... with the reductions in the prices of flatscreens and Blu-rays," said Carraway, who has 16 years of retail experience.

The Target where Carraway works reflected a pattern elsewhere in town - an early influx of Christmas-item shoppers, followed by steady interest in consumer electronics and lots of people hoping to convert gift cards into post-holiday rewards.

"I have six daughters, so the further that dollar goes, the better," said Sheila Westberry, 42, of Columbia.

On Saturday, she took five of her daughters to Target to use their gift cards. "It burns a hole in their pockets," Westberry said.

But this year, the sales were not as good as she expected.

"Usually the day after Christmas, there are more items on sale," Westberry said. "It's not like it used to be."

And it might not be next year, either.

As Stinson put it, "I don't know the future."