Dec. 26, 2010 -- With Christmas Day having come and gone, the time has come for those who received to hit the stores, wielding their gift cards and returning those unwanted items.
One of the major advantages of the season is the deals, discounts and bargains that stores offer to shoppers who flood in after the biggest gift-giving day of the year. But can shoppers expect to see those 70 percent or 80 percent-off deals we got used to over the last couple of years? In short -- not likely.
Excellent returns seen this year, with Americans spending $451.5 billion on holiday shopping -- up 3.3 percent from last year, and nearly topping 2007's record $452.8 billion -- may curb the 50-60-70-percent off deals seen over the last two years.
But some retailers are still trying to keep the momentum going. And if sales continue to be strong over the next week, this holiday shopping season could be the best ever -- despite the bad economy.
Among the items stores are trying to get rid of? Jewelry -- 60 percent off many items at Zales and Gordons. Toys -- 50 percent off select toys at WalMart and Lego.com. And with the Super Bowl coming, after-Christmas is a great time to buy a TV.
"TVs are one of those items where they're going to offer selected styles on sale. So take advantage of that. Do your homework before you buy," retail analyst Marshal Cohen said today on "Good Morning America."
And what is the best strategy for post-Christmas shopping? Check the web before you check the store. Shoppers have spent more than $36 billion buying online this season, driven by discounts and free shipping. Many of those offers continue this week, meaning that you may not even have to brave the stores to get the best deal.
Retailers Best Buy and Sears have both announced sales that will begin on Dec. 26, while many other stores are lengthening their operating hours to accommodate as many customers as possible.
Best Buy will have its annual Day After Christmas Sale, with stores across the country opening their doors on Dec. 26 at 7 a.m. The sale also offers free shipping at BestBuy.com on Dec. 26 and 27 on a number of items.
Major offers at Best Buy include its popular free smart phone sales event, major discounts on home theater equipment and 50 percent off iPhone cases, according to Digital News Report.
Meanwhile, Sears will be offering 20 percent off all Kenmore appliances, along with free standard delivery and haul-away on all appliances costing $399.99 and over.
Walmart, the country's largest retailer, is offering Toshiba Satellite Black 15.6" laptops for $398 and VIZIO 26" Class LCD TVs for $259.
After two down years, this year's Christmas season will go down as the holiday when Americans decided to shop again.
This holiday season marks the biggest bump since 2006, and the largest total since a record $452.8 billion was spent in 2007. The holiday season runs from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, so a strong week after Christmas could still make this the biggest of all time.
According to MasterCard SpendingPulse, a unit of MasterCard Advisors that tracks sales at 72,000 retailers, Internet sales within the United States rose 15.4 percent, to $36.4 billion, between Oct. 31 and Dec. 23.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.