Shoppers flocked to stores Monday to spend their gift cards, snap up deals at early-morning sales, and eat at some of their favorite restaurants.

With Christmas falling on a Sunday, Monday was a holiday, but to many people, that was a technicality.

"The mall is absolutely packed. We opened early, at 7 a.m., and we've been busy all day," Ashlyn Delson, marketing director for Willow Grove Park mall, said Monday.

Some retailers offered one-day-only bargains or specialty items to lure shoppers.

Seeking a deal, Courtney Johnson and Emily Wood, friends from Sicklerville, arrived at Cherry Hill Mall at 6 a.m., an hour before H&M opened its doors.

"H&M has a scratch-off sale for the first 100 shoppers," said Johnson, whose early-bird ways got her a silky black blazer for just $10.

Kimori Bender and his stepfather, Joseph Trinkle, both of Salem County, arrived at Cherry Hill Mall at 3 a.m., eager to buy limited-edition Nike Zoom Kobe VII Leopard shoes at Foot Locker.

"But we were still No. 70 in line," Trinkle said. They were wearing their new sneaks, which made them easy to spot in the mall. The Kobes, named for NBA standout Kobe Bryant, sport purple leopard-skin material, fire-engine-red shoelaces, and neon-yellow cushioning.

"This is part of our Christmas present," Trinkle said of the shoes, which cost $180 each.

While representatives at area malls said crowds were large, final sales figures for the make-or-break holiday season won't be available until mid-January. Many companies believed that this year, the day after Christmas would attract more shoppers because most people had the day off.

With retailers offering discounts of 50 to 75 percent, some stores opened at 5 a.m. (Kohls, Wal-Mart) followed by others at 6 (JCPenney, Toys R Us) and 7 (Macy's, Target, Sears).

The day after Christmas is usually the second-highest revenue day for retailers, which this year are hoping to build on better-than-projected pre-Christmas sales.

Also, many Americans said they were delaying Christmas shopping to nab better deals after the holiday.

The retail research firm ShopperTrak estimated that foot traffic at stores would increase 60 percent from last year, when Dec. 26 fell on a Sunday. A snowstorm also crippled much of the Northeast on Dec. 26 last year, limiting shopping.

Forecasting firm IHS Global Insight predicted that retail sales for November and December would rise slightly less than 5 percent from last year's $453 billion. Higher prices this year account for 45 percent of the increase, making 2011 year-over-year sales growth average, IHS analyst Chris Christopher said.

Many people went to the stores to purchase items with gift cards.

At the Ann Taylor Loft store at Cherry Hill Mall, manager Heather Young said she was expecting many customers. The day after Thanksgiving, 61,000 people had come to the store, about 20,000 more than a year earlier.

"People were just buying," she said.

More shoppers are trolling for deals online, making this year's forecast more challenging, Christopher said.

Marian Taylor, a receptionist at the Kimmel Center, was among them.

"I'm the worst person to ask" about shopping, Taylor said. "I bought everything online, mostly for the free shipping, and you don't have to deal with long lines to get out. That is the big thing - the lines."

She had gone to the Target in South Philadelphia only to accompany her daughter-in-law, who was returning an item.

Inside Target, workers were already stocking the aisles for Valentine's Day.

Sarah Taylor of North Philadelphia and her daughter, Tracey, who lives in Maryland and was visiting for the holidays, were already getting for 2012.

They had seen a news story about discounts on holiday items at Target and stocked up on about $80 worth of wrapping paper, bows, ornaments, and other items for Christmas 2012.

"I said, 'Let me get ahead this time,' " Sarah Taylor said.

Contact staff writer Miriam Hill at 215-854-5520, hillmb@phillynews.com or @miriamhill on Twitter.