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PostPosted: Wed Dec 26, 2007 5:30 pm

Posted at Wednesday, December 26, 2007 EDT

Retailers enjoy last-minute weekend surge
MATT HARTLEY , Globe and Mail Update

Canadian retailers benefited from a weekend immediately preceding Christmas Eve this year as consumers spread out their spending over the final frenzied days of shopping on the prowl for last-minute gifts and supplies for Christmas dinner.

Friday, Dec. 21, was the busiest shopping day of the year, with Canadians dropping about $850-million on 15.6 million debit card transactions alone, according to the Interac Association, which manages the country's debit card system.

Typically the busiest buying day for Canadians is Dec. 23, but because that was a Sunday this year, shoppers chose to head for the shops early, leading to a record-breaking three days between Thursday and Saturday, Interac Association president and chief executive Mark O'Connell said Wednesday.

“When you look at the aggregate numbers, the Canadian economy and consumer confidence continue to be strong,” Mr. O'Connell said. “We had pretty solid growth and pretty even growth throughout the holiday season, unlike the United States, where they had a lot of slow spending early in the season and a lot of the stores had to resort to some discounting and some added hours of service.”

Between Friday and Sunday, the association tracked more than 41.7-million debit card swipes across Canada.

Nearly one in five Interac transactions -- 18 per cent -- on Friday were at supermarkets as shoppers rushed out to grab last-minute fixings for Christmas dinners, spending about $186.7-million.

Specialty clothing stores raked in $186.9-million on 2.7-million transactions while department stores topped $109-million on 1.7-million swipes.

Ontario residents spent more than $314-million with their debit cards on Friday, more than any other province and 44 per cent more than Quebec, second on the list with $174.3-million.

While pre-Christmas sales saw growth in Canada, some analysts are projecting a Boxing Day slump for retailers. Fewer shoppers are expected to hit the malls in search of bargains this year and those who do venture out are expected to spend 29 per cent less this year than last, according to a recent report from Visa Canada. The average expenditure is pegged at $233 per person, down from $328 last year, the report said. Last year, Canadians spent nearly $2-billion in Boxing Day sales.

In the United States, retailers saw holiday sales rise 3.6 per cent with help from a surge of last-minute spending on some items, according to data released Tuesday by SpendingPulse, a retail data report from MasterCard Advisors. Still, those numbers were at the low end of expectations for the season, which many experts predicted would see the slowest growth rate in five years due to the housing slump, credit crunch and soaring fuel costs. Excluding gasoline and auto sales, holiday spending in the United States was up only 2.4 per cent.

Target Corp., the number two retailer in the United States, warned its sales may have fallen in December. Target chief executive Bob Ulrich said in early December the company's sales trends would need to significantly improve for the chain to achieve its fourth-quarter earnings per share targets.

With reports from Reuters, Associated Press ... v-business

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