Relax, sip some eggnog, take a deep breath and admire the lovely gifts you will be returning. Saturday will be a busy day.
While shoppers are girding for another long day in the aisles Saturday, retailers are anticipating their second-biggest day of the year in sales. Of course, much of the activity will be swirling around the return counters, but merchants love this because it usually generates even more sales than the original purchases. It's a way to prolong the holiday merriment.
Merchants disagree whether the day after Christmas or the day after Thanksgiving is the year's busiest. Regardless, Dec. 26 is the best day to find the biggest bargains and is a madhouse at the malls for several reasons:
Most stores mark down their merchandise, beginning a month of clearance sales to move end-of-season inventory and provide room for new items.
Many people do not go to work the day after Christmas, choosing instead to while away the day dodging other bargain hunters.
And many still have money burning holes in their pockets or, thanks to Santa, have replenished their cash supply.
The biggest bargains Saturday will be in women's clothing. Stores stock extra holiday wear for women, anticipating they will buy festive new party dresses. Then, after Christmas, retailers cut prices, anticipating women will buy even more festive new party dresses--but this time on sale.
They are usually right. The other reason women's clothing will be marked down more than any other merchandise is that it's outdated by January, and stores have to get rid of it. Some merchandise, crystal for example, can stay in a store forever without becoming dated.
The next-biggest sales category is men's and boys' wear, then records and electronics, followed by linens and other white-sale items.
January white sales began as an excuse to enliven a drab month for business. Even with the clearance sales, many of which begin Dec. 26 and last throughout January, it is a bad month for retailing. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, the nation's variety stores in 1986 made just 6.7% of their annual sales in January, contrasted with more than 15% in December. Jewelry stores made just 5.5% of their annual sales in January, 1986, contrasted with 24.1% in December of that year.
Bargains abound at both specialty shops and department stores. The latter usually have the greatest number of sales and the longest hours. Specialty stores generally have more distinctive merchandise. Where you head depends on taste, although it's good to remember that department and discount stores have sales all year long, and it's not uncommon to see the "take 25% off ticket price" at any time.
On the other hand, the so-called better-label specialty stores have fewer sales, so January may be the one time mere mortals get to pick up a Gucci bag or Amen Wardy frock.
Inventory is monitored throughout the season to determine how merchandise will be marked down at the end. Department stores may begin marking down at the start of the season an item that is moving slowly. The higher-priced specialty stores, however, rely on just one or two sales a year.
On Saturday, some of the items on sale at specialty stores in South Coast Plaza will include the classic, low-heeled Gucci pump, reduced to $119 from $185; a black satin jacket at Saint Laurent rive gauche , reduced to $1,150 from $2,300, and a navy-blue silk two-piece evening dress with lace overlay at Jessica McClintock, reduced to $900 from $1,800.
The Cartier people say Cartier "does not have after-Christmas sales." However, a box of Cartier Christmas cards will be reduced to $43 from $86. Just don't call it a sale, please.
Some stores have separate return counters; others do not. Toys R Us has a separate return counter set up for Saturday, bolstered by extra cash registers. Sears has separate return counters set up in certain departments, and May Co. has designated certain terminals throughout the stores to handle returns only.
If you are venturing out Saturday, here's some advice from retailers:
Choose a place with adequate parking, courteous salespeople and comfortable surroundings, says Mary Flynn, marketing director of The City Shopping Center in Orange. She adds: "Come early, dress comfortably and keep children in hand."
Pat Chavez, marketing director of Huntington Center, urges shoppers not to jump the gun: "Realize that the whole month is a clearance sale month. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The sales won't end the day after Christmas." (Huntington Center is having a sidewalk sale Jan. 8-10.)
And marketing director Maura Eggan says South Coast Plaza's program requiring employees to park off-site will still be in effect Saturday. She says avoid the Bristol entrance off the 405 Freeway, if possible. And use the Bear Street entrance rather than the Bristol Street lots.
SATURDAY SHOPPING HOURS AT AREA MALLS
Huntington Center, Huntington Beach: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
The City Shopping Center, Orange: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fashion Island, Newport Beach: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa: 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Mission Viejo Mall: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Laguna Hills Mall: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Brea Mall: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Anaheim Plaza: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
MainPlace/Santa Ana: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
La Habra Fashion Square: 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Mall of Orange: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Westminster Mall: 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Buena Park Mall: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.