MANATEE -- Day-after-Christmas shoppers lined up by the dozens by 6 a.m. Friday at Bealls' department store locations in the Bradenton area.
Some had Christmas gifts to return or exchange, but a post-holiday sale seemed to be the big draw, as the feasting and excitement of the previous day faded.
One of the biggest shopping and merchandise return days of the year, Dec. 26 kept retailers' registers busy. At the Bealls store at 6355 Manatee Avenue W., the crowds came in waves.
"For 6 a.m., it was a big crowd for us," said area Bealls manager Tommy Chasanoff. "We probably had a couple hundred people."
Most people in line at the checkout aisle were at the store to purchase, rather than to return Christmas gifts that didn't fit or were the
wrong color. Beth Earley of New Jersey said a $10-off coupon for purchases over $25 brought her to the store. She was a little disappointed that the coupon couldn't be used for Under Armor-brand clothing, but her family's day-after-Christmas shopping is a tradition that she pursues, deal or no deal.
"We always go out," she said.
Her Bealls store had a $70,000 budget set for returns and exchanges that day, but Chasanoff said he expected sales to far outpace anything being returned. Just after 5 p.m., CariAnn Newby, another Bealls area manager, said the store had exceeded its sales goal for the day.
In addition, much of what merchandise did come back was turned in for exchanges.
"We did continue to see exchanges over returns, which is a big relief for us," Newby said.
Smaller retailers also benefited from post-Christmas shopper demand. Charlie Kennedy, owner of downtown Bradenton women's clothier Rusty Crickett's Coastal City Cottage, said the business notched 25 percent more sales than in 2013. Gift exchanges and a day-after-Christmas sale brought more traffic.
"We were about average for exchanges, as the majority of our business is before Christmas," Kennedy said. "And they do come in because we put the Christmas items on sale."
At The Mall at University Town Center, the shopping crowd was heavy. Jackie Zumba, owner of Jackie Z Style Co., said her mall location drew traffic with sale items discounted by 50 to 60 percent. By early afternoon, she said only her downtown Sarasota store had seen gift exchanges.
She added that she expects to see more customers coming in over the next few days to use gift cards her stores sold before the holiday.
"It was a great holiday season," she said. "I had many pre-existing customers from our downtown store come in to support us at the mall."
Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retailers Association in Tallahassee, said he does not expect to see hard numbers from retailers concerning returns and exchanges until early 2015. But he does believe the 2014 return period between Christmas and New Year's Day will run well.
"The last four or five years, retailers have educated consumers about how to make this a smooth process," he said. "It's a great week to shop, if you're not burned out."
A major concern for the week is return fraud, McAllister said. Retailers are being more strict about needing to see receipts or gift receipts for exchanges and returns. The National Retail Association has estimated that retailers will lose $3.8 billion to return fraud during the 2014 holiday season.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.