TORONTO - Canadian shoppers are opening their wallets a lot wider this year than last despite concerns over the economy, according to a new survey that tallies retail sales.

Moneris Solutions Corp., a debit and credit card payments processor, says its figures show sales are up sharply leading into the last weekend before Christmas.

The Moneris survey, released Thursday, tracks national sales in the final five weekends of the pre-holiday season.

It says that in the first weekend of December, shoppers spent five per cent more overall, with department stores the clear winner as their sales shot up 12.8 per cent.

Clothing stores saw a 5.4 per cent increase in sales in the Dec. 4-6 weekend, while drugstores reported a 3.8 per cent increase.

Last weekend, Dec. 11-13, it was the turn of apparel retailers as they rang in an 11.4 per cent increase in sales amid an overall six per cent jump compared with 2008.

"As the Canadian economy begins a trend toward recovery, the increase in pre-holiday spending is a clear indication of renewed consumer confidence," said David Ades, Moneris' senior vice-president, sales and marketing.

"Canadians are clearly more optimistic about the future this year than they were during this time last year, and retailers are capitalizing on this by using creative marketing tactics to draw them in early and often," Ades said.

With both debit and credit card options in their wallets, consumers had been showing a slight preference for debit cards earlier this year.

"(But) credit card transactions saw a resurgence as the economy recovered," Moneris said in a news release.

The 2009 pre-holiday spending data compared national retail sales over the past five weekends with the same period last year.

The data covers all merchant categories and tallies the dollar value as well as the number of transactions made on Moneris debit and credit card terminals across the country.

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