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Dec. 26 is the day of retail returns

When Barb Conlan receives a Christmas gift she doesn’t like, she doesn’t even dream of returning it to the store.

“I feel guilty returning stuff, especially when it’s something you know someone saw and thought, “Oh, she would love this!” Conlan said. “Sometimes I’ll even wear it, just because I feel bad.”

Knowing someone returned a gift she bought hurts, too.

“When someone asks for a receipt I’m like, ‘Ugh. I just spent all this time, money and energy,” she said.

But Conlan may be in the minority. Gift returners come in all kinds, and they were out in throngs Friday, returning Christmas gifts they didn’t like, didn’t need or that didn’t fit. There were almost as many people walking into malls and stores carrying packages as there were people walking out with them.

Dec. 26 is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. Post-Christmas shoppers are home from school or work, have gift cards burning holes in their pockets, and are eager to exchange gifts at stores or turn them in for money to be spent elsewhere. Retailers prepare for the big crowds by adding extra staff, hyping up the promotions and having plenty of store gift cards on hand.

Returns are a necessary evil for retailers, because they’re expensive, time-consuming and are an opportunity for unscrupulous shoppers to take unfair advantage of store policies. Items purchased online and returned to stores can be a particular headache. Stores try to minimize returns by pushing gift card sales during the holiday season and by helping shoppers find proper sizes before they buy. Even so, many retailers try to make their return policies as flexible as possible, lest they risk frustrating – and losing – a customer.

Retailers are expected to see the second-heaviest volume of consumer traffic and the sixth-highest volume of sales for all of 2014, according to ShopperTrak, a consumer analytics firm. Because the day fell on a Friday this year, more workers are expected to take the day off in order to extend their holiday weekend. All that downtime is expected to bring a “flood” of shoppers into stores through Sunday, according to Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak.