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MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Retailers are ready for the post-Christmas return rush over the next week or so after Americans went big on buying holiday gifts.

Total retail sales this holiday season added up to a record $598 billion, up $33 billion from last year.

“This is literally the best season since before the recession,” said Craig Johnson whose company analyzes all things retail. He credits low unemployment and a booming stock market.

“The single biggest driver of retail sales is growth in real disposable income. And when real income goes up people have money in their pocket and they’re able to spend it,” said Johnson.

Online sales were also way up. UPS had to call in support from their accountants and office staff to deliver everything on time.

Now that the gifts have been opened it’s time for the returns and end of the year bargain hunting to begin.

Jose Gil says he hates to return gifts, even if he really doesn’t like them.

“Most of the time you just leave them there and you’re just too lazy take them back but when you do it’s pretty uncomfortable because if the person finds out it’s not good,” he said.

At the Dolphin Mall, there were plenty of discounts to lure in shoppers who were there to return gifts.

“I just getting some deals after Christmas, little things like that,” said Steven Mejia was there when the mall opened.

He said at Bath & Bodyworks had such good deals, he stocked up for next year.

“I bought candles, hand sanitizer, a few fragrances, they were on sale for like 75 percent off so I bought them,” he said.

Other shoppers said the deals and the gift cards they received for Christmas were a perfect match.

“I got gift cards for Christmas so what better way than to come out and spend them, you know,” said Olivia Adams.

Adams who said received $200 in gift cards was out looking big sales so she could pick and choose exactly want she wants.

“It’s awesome, I love it. It’s better than receiving a gift, in my personal experience, because I can go out and get whatever I want. I don’t have to worry about returning a gift, you know, getting a size too big or small or something like that.”

Shoppers like Desiree Feese came to the mall to exchange a present.

“I get the wrong size from my husband and I have to exchange it for a bigger one,” she said.

But she didn’t stop with just the return, instead dropped some major money while shopping around.

“Like 300 dollars, more,” she said while adding that her plan was not to come and spend money.

Xianchoe Li came to Aventura mall with her mom, who’s visiting from China.

Li did some research before coming to the mall though, finding out some of her favorite things were on sale.

“There are some favorite brands that usually don’t do promotions but only in Christmas,” she explained.

It’s those great bargains that are getting people in the door.

Everywhere you look there are steep discounts.

“I got like lotions and perfumes,” said shopper Rosena. “They were like 70% off. The original price was like $12.50 and it came to like 3.75 and stuff like that.”

A survey from the National Retail Federation estimates almost two-thirds of people made at least one return during the past holiday season.

When it comes to returns, some stores are better than others. Nordstrom handles returns on a case by case basis. There’s no time limit, no receipt needed and for most items you don’t even need the original tag. JC Penny and Kohl’s also have generous return policies.

Consumer Reports senior editor Donna Rosato said there are some things you can do to make returns more efficient.

“First don’t open the box, many stores will charge you a restocking fee on certain items, especially electronics if you don’t return it in the original packaging,” she said.

Rosato said if you plan to return something, do it sooner rather than later or else you may be out of luck.

“Some retailers are very generous but others have very limited time that you can return, in fact many major stores will only allow you 90 days to return an item but some as little 30 days or even 15 days,” she said.

Most shoppers agreed that they try to avoid one day in particular.

“Well you definitely don’t go the day after Christmas I think we all know that’s rule number one,” said Marguerite LaCorte.

It’s a rule that could save you time, money, and aggravation.

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