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Crowds pounce on Boxing Day sales; poll suggests majority of Canadians to shop

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TORONTO - Wallets were flung open and registers rang out Wednesday as a number of Canadians shook off holiday fatigue and flocked to stores for Boxing Day bargains.

In Toronto, eager shoppers lined up in sub-zero temperatures outside downtown stores while others scoured the Eaton Centre mall for savings.

Griffin Courtice, 17, got a 5 a.m. lift to Best Buy, braving the morning cold to stand in line with dozens of people an hour before the store opened its doors.

The teen said he set his sights on a deeply discounted TV, the nearly half-off sale price deemed worth the pre-dawn wake-up call and "mind-blowing" lineup.

Despite growing competition from the U.S.'s Black Friday — the annual day of drastic markdowns held the Friday after American Thanksgiving — Courtice said the bargains found on Boxing Day are nothing to sleep through.

"Even though Black Friday may have been a bit more intense, a bit crazy, people are still getting good sales," Courtice said while clutching a 32-inch flat-screen TV.

A new survey commissioned by the Bank of Montreal suggests Canadians continue to embrace the Boxing Day tradition this year.

The Pollara survey of 1,000 Canadians found that roughly six in 10 respondents planned to shop on one of the busiest business days of the year for retailers.

The survey suggested Alberta would see the most transactions Wednesday, with 76 per cent of respondents saying they planned to take advantage of Boxing Day bargains. Atlantic Canada was next at 72 per cent, followed by Ontario at 69 per cent.

Quebec was expected to see the lightest Boxing Day shopping, with just 36 per cent of respondents saying they planned to take part in the annual shopping extravaganza.

The survey also found that men were more likely than women to take advantage of Boxing Day sales at a rate of 66 per cent versus 58 per cent.

One-in-five, or 22 per cent, said they planned to shop for themselves, while 34 per cent said they would buy items for both themselves and others.

The survey was conducted between Oct. 11 and 16. and the results are considered accurate plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Despite the survey's findings regarding Quebec, several major electronic and clothing stores in downtown Montreal drew big lines on Wednesday.

A crowd of bargain hunters waited for hours outside a big-box retail store in frigid temperatures.

Fabiola Ruiz, 31, split the waiting duties with her mother and brought along her eight-year-old daughter for company as well.

"It's very cold, but it's worth it," she said, sipping coffee to keep warm. "We're looking for deals for the whole family."

It was a similar scene in Vancouver, where shoppers bustling through one of the city's most popular downtown shopping streets paid little attention to the light mist of rain coming down on their packages.

Small queues formed outside several Granville Street clothing stores, and a steady stream of flatscreen TVs were wheeled out of a big box electronics store and loaded into taxis.

Two sisters who called themselves "professional" Boxing Day shoppers said the deals lived up to their usual expectations, having arrived at 7:15 a.m. from Mission, B.C., an hour's drive from the east.

"You know what to expect and it's just going to be crowded and crazy and you have to know what you want and get in and get out. We went scouting before," said Gillian Robertson, 20.

"The other day we came in, walked around, saw what we wanted and then waited for the deals," explained her sister, Caitlin Robertson, 24.

Howard Ma, however, who used to live in Vancouver but now returns from his home abroad to visit family each year, said he is starting to notice a downward trend.

"There wasn't as many good deals as I thought there'd be. Retailers do sales the whole year round," he said.

Regardless, he expects he'll be back again next year.

"I think it's still going to happen, it's just a tradition," he said. "Going to come out the day after the holidays, walk, look around. But you're not going to go out of your way to do the 6 a.m. thing anymore. That was, like, ten years ago."

Future Shop spokesman Elliott Chun said most shoppers ducking into the electronics chain on its busiest day of the year are looking to fulfil their own desires.

"We're seeing customers coming in with their gift cards, with their Christmas cash and they're starting to spend it on themselves," he said, adding the average transaction on Boxing Day tops $500.

Chun said Black Friday isn't sapping the enthusiasm of shoppers, noting that hundreds lined up early at Future Shop stores across the country, some arriving the night before to camp out for a prime spot in line.

Meanwhile, BMO Vice-President Su McVey said in a statement that bargain seekers should take Boxing Day buys into account when figuring out how much they'll spend over the holiday period.

Robert Knowles, 56, said he didn't work Boxing Day spending into his holiday budget this year, but that the $50 computer printer he nabbed Wednesday in Toronto isn't going to break the bank.

"I'm not very good at budgeting (for) it other than not to spend too much money," he said before heading home with his purchase.

— with files from Ben Shingler in Montreal and Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver

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