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Canadians make debt defying race to the stores

In the search of good deals shoppers line up outside of Livestock, a shoe store on Spadina Ave, during Boxing Day in Toronto on Dec. 26 2011.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Canadians put aside their worries about the global economy and their rising debt loads in favour of getting a great deal in the traditional Boxing Day spending spree.

Bargain hunters lined up across the country on Monday, in some cases overnight, looking for deals on everything from high-end clothing and leather bags to televisions and video-game consoles.

Shoppers started to queue up at Future Shop on Montreal's Ste-Catherine St. at 1 a.m., 12 hours before the store opened. Kevin Bergeron, 18, said it was a long, cold night. "Whatever has the best deal, that's what I'll take," he said.

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A few blocks away, 18-year-old Sammy Bazizi had been waiting outside an H&M clothing store since 11 p.m. Sunday, hoping to score a $300 gift the store was offering to the first person in line. "So it's worth it," said Mr. Bazizi, who took breaks in his car throughout the night to stay warm.

Firm numbers won't be available until next month, but, for all the devoted deal-chasing, anecdotal evidence suggests Boxing Day had a little less meaning this year. Many retailers offered discounts on Black Friday – the day after U.S. Thanksgiving – or even earlier this fall, and online shopping made bargain-hunting easier for people who don't care for the post-Christmas crowds.

Data from payment processors like Moneris Solutions on how much we spent from Dec. 24-26 will not be available until January. Similarly, the Retail Council of Canada won't have its tally of how its members fared during the holiday season for several weeks, according to a spokeswoman.

But price cuts earlier in the fall do appear to have lured shoppers back for more, and while some people are cutting back, just as many say they've spent about the same as last year.

When staff of a Best Buy in Ottawa arrived for work Monday, they found nearly 1,000 people – twice the number expected – waiting outside. At the Rideau Centre, a mall in the heart of downtown Ottawa, crowds were steady but it was hardly the pandemonium of previous years.

In Toronto, roads leading to Yorkdale Shopping Centre were backed up most of the day, with shoppers circling like vultures for parking spots.

In the end, analysts and retailers expect sales numbers, once they are compiled, to show a slight uptick in spending from 2010. Overall retail sales have been climbing for the past three months, and holiday spending as of Dec. 19 was up 4.6 per cent from last year, Moneris said Thursday.

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The Retail Council also estimates holiday sales will be 3-per-cent higher this year.

A few tales from the Boxing Day shopping front:

Seventeen-year-old Gavin Liu and his friends lined up at 7 a.m. outside Livestock's downtown Toronto store to get a pair of Jordans, or whatever else they could find a bargain on. "We were like the second person in line," said Mr. Liu, who ended up buying some T-shirts instead of the shoes he had coveted. "I feel you save more on electronics on Boxing Day," he said. "Stuff like TVs, iPods, laptops – that's the really hot stuff."

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Lululemon Athletica, the hugely popular yoga apparel store, almost never offers discounts, so it's no surprise that its markdowns Monday attracted lineups of mostly female teens and 20-somethings eager to get inside and see what was on offer. Adam Davidson, a Lululemon yoga "educator" at Ottawa's Rideau Centre who was working crowd control, said the line at one point Monday stretched to 300 people, snaking through the mall. "We had to turn some people away because of the fire hazard," he said.

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Sears Canada put Microsoft's Kinect for X-Box 360 – the normally $299.99 controller-less video-gaming system – on sale for Black Friday for $199.99, and did so again this week. Natalie Larocque, a manager at Sears in Rideau Centre, was walking out with one Monday for her 75-year-old father, and planned to come back to get another for her 10-year-old nephew. Ms. Larocque had bought one for her grown children on Black Friday, and after giving it to them Christmas Eve and seeing it was a hit, figured she should get two more while the sale was on. "It was probably the neatest Christmas we've had in a while," she said, "because everyone, no matter their age, was playing."

With reports from Tamara Baluja, Marina Strauss and Tavia Grant in Toronto, and The Canadian Press

U.S. shoppers to return $46-billion in holiday goods

Whether it's the wrong size, wrong style or just plain weird, U.S. shoppers were expected to return $46.28-billion in holiday merchandise, a record high, according to the National Retail Federation.

This year, shoppers were bringing items back even before those presents were wrapped. That's partly a result of record-breaking sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, when buyers flocked to stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

"Higher sales will bring higher return amounts," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the NRF.

Some gift buyers were bringing purchases back to take advantage of additional markdowns retailers made in the days before Christmas, explained Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York-based consulting firm.

"Now they can get what they bought three weeks ago for 30 per cent to 40 per cent less," she said.

A surge in online shopping – and free or return shipping – also spurred the trend, Ms. Corlett said. Buyers often order more than one size or style before making a final decision on the item they want, then return the rest.


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Economics/business writer

Jeremy has covered Canadian and international economics at The Globe and Mail since late 2009. More

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