With the gifts opened and the sugar high waning, Minnesotans flocked to the malls on Saturday to scope out deals and return those items that didn’t quite hit the mark.

The next few weeks could be a boon for consumers looking for discounts, as retailers try to put a little ho-ho-ho into their humdrum holiday season.

In a year in which online sales surged, some mall operators predicted that Saturday’s traffic could outpace that of Black Friday and Christmas Eve, especially with the barrage of discounts.

Cindy Peterson of Pequot Lakes, Minn., was delighted with the $3 T-shirt she had bought at Macy’s using a combination of sale prices and coupons. Standing outside the downtown Minneapolis store with a stuffed red shopping bag, Peterson pulled out a gold Calvin Klein winter jacket originally marked at $149.99 that she bought for $39.93.

“I didn’t really need it,” said Peterson, whose original intent was to shop for a cruise to the Bahamas next week. “But the deal was so good I couldn’t resist.”

Retailers rely on gift cards and returns to squeeze out additional sales before the late-wintertime lull sets in.

Last year, consumers returned about $68.8 billion in merchandise during the holidays — or about 11.2 percent of total Christmas sales. That’s an increase of 11 percent from the previous year, driven in part by an increase in online shopping.

Even though many malls and retailers opened early, the snowfall around the Twin Cities made for a slow start. Traffic at the Mall of America began picking up after lunch and built throughout the afternoon, said spokesman Dan Jasper.

The day after Christmas consistently ranks as one of the Bloomington mall’s five busiest days of the year. Storefronts advertised 40 percent to 60 percent off and buy-one/get-one offers.

“It’s always a big day for us with returns, and sales and gift cards,” Jasper said.

As Jasper stood on the third floor answering shoppers’ questions, he noted that many families were asking for “a nice, sit-down place to eat.”

“Whereas in years past, it was oftentimes: ‘Where’s the food court?’ ” Jasper said. “A lot of people are taking some time for a leisurely lunch before they go back at it.”

At Patina’s store in Uptown, manager Kim Cook said the half-price sale on Christmas items remains a perennial draw.

Few people were using gift cards, she said, but even regular-priced items were moving, part of the reason the independent retail chain store has been exceeding its sales goals this year.

“Normally Saturdays are busy anyway,” Cook said, “But I feel like more people are out and shopping today than usual.”

Target spokeswoman Amy Joiner said its day-after Christmas shoppers often are on the hunt for add-ons and accessories for video games and other electronics and entertainment gifts. Many take advantage of clearance pricing on holiday decor to get a jump on next year.

This year Target is sweetening the deal by offering an extra 20 percent off clearance clothing and other accessories through its Cartwheel coupon app for smartphones.

Returns and new finds

For those who agonize over finding the perfect gift, consider that one in three gift recipients, or almost 35 percent, returned at least one item during the 2013 holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.

For Josh Grant of Minneapolis and his best friend, Nick Thimis, who was visiting from Atlanta, Saturday’s deal-shopping was tailor-made for splurge.

The two were reeled into the Len Druskin outlet with the lure of flannel shirts and ended up buying matching sweatshirts with a graphic moose on it. Impulse buy, all the way.

“Super cheesy, but fun,” Grant said, laughing. “We’re going to go take a picture drinking a cup of coffee — super ‘hipster.’ ”