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Retailers guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve with Free Shipping Day

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TORONTO - Fire up those computers and flex those clicking fingers Canada — it’s Free Shipping Day.

As American shopping incentives like Black Friday and Cyber Monday see increased success in Canada, today's retail event is yet another attempt to entice Canucks to spend.

The one-day online campaign — which has been running south of the border for five years — is being offered for the second year in Canada and has nearly 250 merchants offering free shipping with delivery guaranteed by Christmas Eve.

The lure of free shipping could prove to be a strong one today as high or hidden delivery costs can often be a deterring factor for Canadians shopping online.

"It's actually more about the delivery promise than it is about the free shipping. But it is the free shipping that grabs people," said Regina native Luke Knowles, who created the campaign. "Shoppers can save lots of money."

Knowles said the idea for the event first launched in the U.S. in 2008 grew from the idea that many customers stopped online shopping after the first two weeks of December for fear their items wouldn't arrive in time to be given as gifts.

"We decide to change the shoppers' behaviour on that so we combined free shipping with delivery by Christmas Eve," he said.

Retailers taking part in today's event are listed at www.freeshippingday.ca and range from big brands like The Bay, Sears, Best Buy and Peoples Jewellers to smaller boutiques. Corresponding coupon codes required for some merchants are also listed on the site.

While some merchants will require a minimum purchase amount for the free shipping to apply, Knowles said such conditions are discouraged and, at last count, 58 per cent of participating retailers were offering free delivery for all orders.

The event is much bigger in the U.S., where 2,600 stores participated last year. According to Knowles, the American version of Free Shipping Day saw about a billion dollars in sales in the U.S. in 2011 and ranks among the top five shopping days of the year.

"It's very well received and we expect in the next couple of years for it to take off like that in Canada as well," he said.

Last year's inaugural Canadian campaign saw about 150 retailers participate and seemed to be well received, Knowles said.

"The results were actually quite phenomenal to us," he said. "The retailers loved it, they received lots of traffic, they made lots of sales."

If the Canadian response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year is any indication, today's event could gain traction among Canucks. According to data from debit and credit card processor Moneris Solutions, Canadian spending grew 23 per cent on Cyber Monday and 6.5 per cent on Black Friday this year over last.

For years, both events were largely American campaigns that had Canadians who wanted to participate visiting U.S. websites or crossing the border on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving, which marks the start of the crucial holiday shopping season when retailers turn profits, or go "into the black.''

Cyber Monday emerged as shoppers wanting to continue their Black Friday spree logged-in at home, as well as at work on the following Monday.

A combination of factors — Canadian retailers trying to keep sales local, U.S. competitors setting up shop in Canada, shifting shopping habits and tight-fisted consumers — are helping to establish the events on Canadian soil.

While the success of today's event remains to be seen, at least one online retail trend observer said an increasing number of Canadians appear to be doing more of their shopping online.

"I think people are becoming more comfortable with online buying," said Steve Tissenbaum, an instructor with the Ted Rogers School of Retail Management at Toronto's Ryerson University.

"Online has been dedicated for research prior to this year, but now suddenly there's a spike and people feel confident that it's a safer environment and they can shop around for different prices."

According to Tissenbaum, merchants have competed to offer free shipping of some sort for the past few years, but the new battle for online retail dollars is being fought over price matching.

"The consumer almost expects free shipping now with spending a certain amount of money," he said.

While anyone can take advantage of the free shipping offers, the Christmas Eve delivery guarantee does not extend to those living in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the Yukon.

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