ORLANDO, Fla. -

Many Central Florida stores opened early on Wednesday for the masses of shoppers to hit the town, exchange unwanted Christmas gifts and spend their newly received gift cards.

Early morning specials and doorbuster sales were offered at various stores, like Kohl's at Waterford Lakes. Kohl's and Walmart opened at 5 a.m. Toys R Us opened at 6 a.m. and Macy's opened at 7 a.m.

[INTERACTIVE: GUIDE TO AFTER CHRISTMAS SHOPPING RETURNS]

Some stores have toughened their return policies in 2012 and according to StellaService.com, the toughest places for returns both in-store and online are Sears, which has shortened its return policy from 90 days to 60 days and JC Penney.

Target has also shortened its policy for returning electronics to 30 days. Meanwhile, Toys R Us has actually made it easier to return electronics items, saying that they will accept returns for electronics if the box is opened.

But not everyone hitting the stores on Wednesday is returning or exchanging. In 2011, according to Shoppertrack.com, shoppers spent more than $7 billion on the day after Christmas.

Meanwhile, shoppers are warned about storms coming through the area Wednesday afternoon.

Stores looking to week after Christmas for sales

Despite the huge discounts and other incentives that stores offered leading up to Christmas, U.S. holiday sales so far this year have been the weakest since 2008, when the nation was in a deep recession.

Stores now are depending on the days after Christmas to make up lost ground: The final week of December can account for about 15 percent of the month's sales, and the day after Christmas is typically one of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Stores, which don't typically talk about their plans for sales and other promotions during the season, are known for offering discounts of up to 70 percent after the holiday. This year, they're hoping to lure more bargain hunters who held off on shopping because they wanted to get the best deals of the season.

The SpendingPulse data, which captures sales from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24 across all payment methods, is the first major snapshot of holiday retail sales. A clearer picture will emerge next week as retailers like Macy's and Target report monthly sales.

The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, said Wednesday that it's sticking to its forecast for total sales for November and December to be up 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion this year. That's more than a percentage point lower than the growth in each of the past two years, and the smallest increase since 2009 when sales were up just 0.3 percent.