TORONTO (Reuters) - Online bargain-hunting on Cyber Monday enjoyed a breakout year in Canada in 2011, according to data released by eBay, further evidence that U.S.-style pre-holiday discounts are spreading northward.
The e-commerce company said on Thursday that Canadian shoppers bought 37 percent more items on eBay on the Monday following the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend this year compared with last year.
In recent years, online retailers have offered special deals on that day, when many consumers return to their office computers after a weekend at the malls.
"This year saw an unprecedented lift in Cyber Monday activity," said eBay Canada Community Relations Manager Kevin Wolfley in an interview.
Neither Black Friday, the traditional start of the U.S. holiday retail season, nor the online shopping rush that follows on Monday have traditionally been major events in Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving in October.
But this year more retailers than ever launched Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions in Canada, hoping to attract shoppers despite flagging consumer confidence.
Cyber Monday has been gaining popularity in recent years, Wolfley said, but even so, the size of this year's jump took him by surprise. He attributed some of the increase to the uncertain economic environment.
"Everybody's looking for ways to stretch their dollars further," he said. "People are out there, they're just trying to find the best deals."
That is consistent with analysts who say Canadian retailers are turning to pre-Christmas sales to attract consumers this season.
On Wednesday, Leslie Levesque, economist at IHS Global Insight, forecast a modest 1.9 percent increase in holiday sales in Canada, compared with a 4.2 percent gain last year.
"Fatigued and cautious consumers are looking for a bargain, forcing retailers to discount and fight for market share," she wrote in a research note.
While promotions will erode margins, Levesque wrote, "there is no better strategy in this type of consumer market."
(Reporting By Allison Martell; Edited by Frank McGurty)