Shopping malls across the country are decked with sales as the holiday season gets underway, but even with plenty of fanfare, both retailers and shoppers seem to be reining in their expectations.

The days of the holiday spending spree are a thing of the past, it seems, and more people are tightening their gift-giving budgets as they search for as many deals as possible.

“There’s actually not a lot of shopping activity, period,” said Susan Ditchburn co-owner of clothing stores Noise and Decibel in downtown Toronto.

“We are getting people who are buying gift certificates just so they can come on Boxing Week and buy things on sale.”

Blame it on the economy, which tore through the holiday season last year and hasn’t let up much since. Statistics Canada reported that August retail sales rose 0.8 per cent to $34.5 billion, offsetting July’s decline. However, they were also 3.7 per cent lower than the same time a year earlier.

Canadians are also worried about their jobs, after the country lost 71,000 jobs last month.

For bargain hunters waiting until the last minute, or even Boxing Day, this could be a year of disappointment. Retailers are expecting the holiday boom to be more of a fizzle and have planned accordingly.

Across North America, the inventories at many stores have been slashed compared with last year, meaning that popular items will be especially hard to find. Stores have also ramped up their sales early to capture as many shoppers as they can.