Better known as the day of many happy returns, the day after Christmas has morphed into one of the busiest shopping days of the season.

Shoppers in large numbers -- some of them staking out places in line before dawn today -- took advantage of plentiful sales and holiday paraphernalia closeouts. Many people came out to exchange gifts that were the wrong size, shape or color, or defective, or just plain unwanted, but most of the mercantile activity was bargain hunting.

"We opened at 6 a.m. with 'door busters' and had 10 or 12 people waiting at the door," said James Tucker, manager of JCPenney at Citadel Mall.

He said some returns were handled, but new sales ruled the day.

"The day after Christmas has turned into more of a sales day than a returns day," he said. "We do as much on the day after Christmas as the day before it. Our after-Christmas shopping is off to a strong start."

Robust after-Christmas sales were predicted by a pre-holiday national survey. According to the latest America's Research Group/UBS Post-Christmas Forecast survey, the surge is sourced to the fact that many families are strapped for cash and are bargain hunting.

The nationwide telephone survey was conducted Thursday and Friday. ARG Chairman Britt Beemer said 36 percent of Americans expect to shop after-Christmas sales; and of those shopping, it will take big discounts of 60 percent or more to motivate 57 percent to shop.

"As we found in last week's survey, more Americans are living week to week," Beemer said. "It's the bleakest economic outlook in the survey's 27-year history. Americans simply have no money."

Tucker said that in spite of the negative economic news, sales were good at JCPenney this season.

"It's all about having the right item, and the right size, at the right price. If you do, they will come out," he said.

Tucker said JCPenney and many other stores offered steep discounts and closeout prices today, and JCPenney provided a $10 off coupon that can lower already cut-rate prices even more.

Also fueling the day-after shopper turnout, he said, is the increased giving of gift cards, which recipients are eager to redeem, especially when goods are on sale.

Among those combing the displays at JCPenney were Andrew Riegerix of Johns Island and Macy Griggs of West Ashley.

"We've been everywhere, but mostly we are just looking around," Riegerix said. He said he was keen on finding a pair of boots, but "everything was sold or gone."

Ruben Capers of West Ashley tried on belts but was "just looking around."

Linda Branum of West Ashley said that, sadly, she was shopping for new clothes to wear to a funeral for an aunt. "We had a good Christmas, but this is not a happy time for us right now," Branum said.

Among those who carried returns into JCPenney were Flo Dawdy of Johns Island, with a pair of shoes; and Rayna Middleton of Charleston, looking to exchange a doll house.

Middleton said she bought the doll house for her daughter, 11-year-old Cinnamon Middleton. "A few pieces are missing," Rayna Middleton said. "I discovered it while trying to put it together Christmas Eve." She said her daughter was disappointed that the house has to go back, and the family was hoping to exchange it for one that is complete.

A Middleton family friend, Kassandria Heyward of Charleston, carried the rather heavy and bulky boxed doll house into the store and to a customer service representative.

Rayna Middleton said she planned to hit the sales area as soon as she finished dealing with the return.

Dawdy, of Johns Island, explained that the pair of Nike's that her husband, Bryant McCulloh, got were fine but the wrong size.

"We're hoping for the correct size," Dawdy said while approaching the store's shoe department.

Tucker said most of those who come to the store with returns are looking to get a different size, color or style, and maybe a different product, but few are seeking cash.

"Some people can't find something they want. We try to take care of the customer, for the future purchases," he said.