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Bargain hunters find what they’re looking for

NEW YORK — Forget the returns line. Americans hit the stores after Christmas to buy stuff, indulging the rediscovered retail appetite that may have made 2010’s holiday shopping season the biggest ever.

Bargain hunters are finding spectacular deals as retailers slash prices on everything from jewelry and apparel to electronics and video games in hopes of bolstering year-end sales and clearing out inventory.

Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s, Toys R Us, Fry’s Electronics and Sears are among the retail giants offering steep discounts and online coupons.

At Town Square in Las Vegas, Express advertised 60 percent off select items, Banana Republic displayed 40 percent off and New York & Co. took 50 percent to 75 percent off. Aeropostale sold T-shirts for $5. Jeans at Old Navy were marked down to $15 for adults and $10 for kids.

“After Christmas, we see people come in and exchange holiday sweaters and pajamas and slippers,” Old Navy manager Yelena Hamai said Monday. “The good thing is somebody comes in to exchange one item and they see a good deal and they stock up on basics.”

Revenue for the holiday season is on track to grow at its strongest rate since 2006. The National Retail Federation revised its holiday sales estimate upward to $451 billion, a 3.3 percent increase from a year ago.

Spending for November and December could exceed 2007 sales of $452.8 billion — the best season on record. This despite an uncertain economy and a rise in thrifty habits.

Shoppers spent more on their families and friends and for the first time since before the Great Recession, treated themselves and even their pets. An East Coast blizzard didn’t kill the mood as people headed to stores armed with gift cards and eyeing new of discounts.

Galleria at Sunset mall spokeswoman Heather Valera reported a little slower traffic Monday, clearly a break from what she had seen in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

“All the displays have switched over to 70 percent off. Obviously everyone has switched over to deep discount mode,” she said.

Spending was strong since the start of the holiday shopping season in November and the momentum continued through Christmas Eve, a surprising sign of strength for the economy. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

People spent more even as they kept frugal habits learned during the Great Recession. That conservative shopping mentality was clear as shoppers, who focused on finding big bargains and paying with cash, rummaged through clearance bins at stores and malls this week.

Brittany Ware sampled an assortment of creams and lotions priced at three for $10 Monday at Bath and Body Works at Town Square. From there she was headed to Old Navy to buy clothes for her two young children.

“They have the better deals after Christmas,” Ware said.

Her budget for the day was $50 to $100.

“I don’t want to go any deeper into debt,” said 36-year-old Dana Hall, who arrived at Atlantic Station, a downtown shopping complex in Atlanta, on Sunday while killing time before picking up a passenger at the city’s airport.

Stores placed most of their orders in the spring, when the economic recovery looked stronger than it seemed later in the year. So many stores headed into the season worried that they would have too much inventory.

But stores struck the right notes to get careful holiday shoppers to buy more. They rolled out discounts starting in late October to cater to shoppers who wanted to stretch out their buying.

Merchants called it right in anticipating that gift givers would scrimp less and buy nicer, more traditional presents, like sweaters rather than pots and pans and other utilitarian gifts that were popular the past two years.

After-Christmas sales make up about 15 percent of holiday sales. The blizzard cut some stores’ hours Sunday and Monday, but some analysts think shoppers will be undeterred given the new resiliency they have shown this season.

Review-Journal writer Hubble Smith contributed this report.

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