Canadians visited malls and online retailers in droves during Black Friday and Cyber Monday events this year, driving a significant boost in sales for retailers despite earlier predictions that holiday spending could be weak.
Canadians increased spending by 8.3 per cent this Black Friday (Nov. 26) and by 15.4 per cent on Cyber Monday (Nov. 29) compared to dollars spent during the same period last year, Moneris Solutions reported Friday.
Canada's largest credit and debit card processor said the data should be an encouraging sign for retailers, pointing to a strong holiday shopping season.
"I think it's an indication of what the holiday season is going to be about," said Santo Ligotti, vice-president for marketing and communications at Moneris Solutions.
"We're confident that we'll see this trend continue, maybe if somewhat moderate, not as great as now, but definitely this is encouraging."
The amount per transaction has been slightly lower than last year, but the number of transactions are increasing, indicating that people are spending more and a greater number of people are buying, he added.
Black Friday, the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, has been the most popular shopping day south of the border for many years, and Cyber Monday is becoming established as a day for online deals.
Canadians have also been getting involved, even though they celebrate Thanksgiving about seven weeks earlier in early October, as retailers advertise deep discounts to keep their customers from crossing the border to shop.
Earlier reports had indicated that feelings of financial insecurity could overwhelm the Christmas giving spirit, pressuring Canadians to be more frugal holiday shoppers this season.
A survey by Deloitte Canada in November predicted spending would grow by a modest 2 per cent over last year – mostly due to higher prices in line with inflation.
A report by OTX and Google also found Canadians planned to spend $711 this year, down from $728 last holiday season.
And a Bank of Montreal study predicted in October that Canadian retail sales will be up about 2.5 per cent in November and December, compared with a gain of 3.1 per cent in last year's holiday season.
The strong numbers from last weekend don't necessarily mean that consumers will shop more throughout the holiday season, said Alain Michaud, a Canadian retail and consumer leader at PwC.
Instead, the data could reflect that Canadians are shopping early and seeking out deals as they continue to worry about the impact of the economy on their finances, he said.
"We shouldn't jump too quickly to the conclusion that things are getting better because I think it could also be a sign that consumers are stretching their budgets and they're looking for deals," he said.
"People are looking for deals and when the economy is not good, as I think it is right now, it's even more true."
Shoppers also opened their wallets more than expected south of the border over the weekend of sales.
Online sales from the U.S. were up 18 per cent from a year ago on Cyber Monday. That followed an even stronger kickoff to the holiday shopping season over the weekend, when a record number of shoppers visited stores and websites.
Sales on Black Friday rose seven per cent to $11.4-billion (U.S.), the largest amount ever spent, according to ShopperTrak, which gathers stores' data.
Consumer electronics led the growth in spending on both Black Friday and Cyber Monday in Canada.
On Friday, consumer electronics sales rose 18.5 per cent, while consumers also opened up their wallets at department stores, where spending rose 18 per cent compared to the day in 2010.
Cyber Monday – a day of online sales and promotions the Monday after the U.S. long weekend – continues to rise in popularity on this side of the border.
Consumer electronics saw a whopping 131.5 per cent increase and clothing retailers saw a 58 per cent jump in spending.
"With many online merchants offering free shipping and liberal return policies, the category continues to grow," Moneris said.
The Moneris Spending Report provides a snapshot of consumer spending by analyzing credit and debit card transactions.