While economists and investors closely scrutinize sales in the weeks leading up to Christmas - which at some stores can account for half of all annual sales - the week after the holiday is becoming more and more important for merchants.
"Very definitely, this is a week that is growing in importance," said Peter Strawbridge, president of Strawbridge & Clothier, the Philadelphia retail company that operates 13 full-line department stores and the Clover discount chain.
Traditionally, the week after Christmas has been for exchanging presents, redeeming gift certificates and clearing out Christmas merchandise at a discount.
All of that still goes on, but retailers now are tailoring merchandise and sales plans to capture additional sales - and profits - in the days after the traditional Christmas spending blitz.
"In the old days it was just, 'Let's discount what we've got.' Today, it's, 'Let's sell merchandise that we've just received,' " said Brian Ford, a retail analyst with Ernst & Young in Philadelphia.
Strawbridge said last year the company was behind its own internal sales plan through Christmas, but robust sales in the week after put it over the mark, bringing annual sales to $967 million, the company's second-highest selling year ever.
This year, when the company moved its December Clover Day sale from after Christmas to before Christmas, it created a new sale, Jingle Bell Clearance, for the old Clover Day slot.
"We wanted to make sure we were covered," Strawbridge said. "When we make our plans for the whole month, we have to be very careful because there is real business opportunity in that week."
At Sears Roebuck & Co., it's a matter of momentum.
The Chicago retailer, which has been struggling for the past several Christmas seasons, posted holiday sales gains of 9 percent to 12 percent over the year before.
"We expect our post-Christmas sales to continue that momentum" when the results are tallied, said Jan Drummond, a Sears spokeswoman.
Ford said that in the week after Christmas, many consumers take a few days off work and have more time to shop than they did in the frantic days before Christmas.
"It's an easy time to shop," he said. "In the pre-Christmas period, people are squeezing in shopping."
This year, the week's results were expected to be especially significant.
"It means more than anybody imagines," said George Rosenbaum, chief executive of Leo J. Shapiro & Associates, a Chicago market-research firm.
Rosenbaum said consumers scaled back on lavish gift-giving this year - not, as in recent years, out of concern for their own financial situation, but
because they simply wanted to "downgrade" holiday purchasing.
"There was a deliberate slowdown on the part of consumers on Christmas spending," he said.
"Now, after Christmas, they are free of having to manage gifts and can resume spending on what they need or want and act on postponed spending
plans," he said.
Helping them along are the post-Christmas sales designed to entice traffic into stores.
"My guess is that (stores) are having a banner week," he said.
Rosenbaum estimated retail sales were up 3 percent to 4 percent in the traditional holiday shopping period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He predicted retailers would gain another percentage-point increase in the week after Christmas.
But healthy Christmas sales on top of already-lean inventories may have given customers less to pick over.
John V. McKee, the retail partner at Arthur Andersen & Co., in Philadelphia, said that while there were a lot of post-Christmas sales, he did not believe the markdowns were as big as they had been in the last few years. That would be good news for retailers whose bottom lines have suffered during the long consumer spending slump that started in 1990.
"What they have on sale is a little more selective than in the past few years," he said.
But good news for retailers is bad news for Shoneka.
"I've been disappointed. There's not too many bargains out here," she said. "The people in the stores tell me now I have to wait until after New Year's."