Robust gift card sales this holiday season translated into surprisingly speedy return lines for shoppers at some Duluth stores Tuesday.

"We thought it was going to be an all-day nightmare since it's the day after Christmas, but it has actually been going smoothly," Wendy Voss, 44, said after returning clothes at JCPenney in the Miller Hill Mall.

A few lonely items hanging on the return rack confirmed Voss' experience.

The reason for the near-empty rack probably was because of an increased number of people who bought gift cards this year instead of chancing it with presents that might end up being returned, said Dawn Willemarck, a store manager.

"Today is more of a sale day than a return day," Willemarck said. She added that post-holiday clearance sales kept the store busy, even if the return counter wasn't. "More people are out looking for bargains with their gift cards."

The same proved true at Barnes and Noble, where the wait time for returns was about two to three minutes, despite crowds of people browsing for books.

"I think more people are inclined to give gift cards," said Robert Stenseng, the store's assistant manager. He added that gift card sales have been on the rise at the store for several years. "Books are very personal and a gift card lets you get exactly what you want."

Even smaller stores escaped long return lines.

Ed Barbo's Columbia Clothing Co., which sells gift certificates instead of cards, had only one return all day.

"That's less than usual," said Kelly Barbo, a sales representative at the downtown store.

Josh Cardiff, a point-of-sale supervisor at Kohl's, said gift cards flew off the rack so quickly this year that management sometimes found racks empty by day's end.

A card would have saved Pat Mattson a trip to Kohl's to return a gift for her granddaughter, but the return line moved so fast it didn't turn out to be much of a hassle.

"It's not as busy as I thought it would be," Mattson said. "We've been everywhere today, even the mall, and all the lines seem to be moving really quickly."

SARAH HORNER covers K-12 education. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5342 or by e-mail at shorner@duluthnews.com.