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Analysts say Internet, longer season changing how people shop during holidays

WATCH: Retail analysts are saying it’s too soon to tell whether the holiday shopping season will make a big impact. Mark Carcasole reports.

TORONTO –  Economists say it’s too early to tell whether the country’s biggest retailers will have a successful shopping season. But there are some identifiable trends that are changing the traditional holiday shopping period.

Paul Nagpal, the managing director at Strateva Partners, says the Christmas spike retailers normally see is slowly being dulled and replaced with a slower curve that starts in November due to longer sales events.

“All the retailers are starting their sales a lot earlier now,” says Nagpal.

He says it’s not out of the ordinary to find Black Friday sales that begin a week before, or Boxing Day sales that begin well before Christmas.

And he says showrooms are becoming more like warehouses as shoppers do their research ahead of time, particularly on mobile platforms.

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“I’m looking up the product, I’m doing research in advance,” Nagpal said. “While I’m in the store I might do some additional research, make sure I’m getting the best price and then I’ll still make the purchase in the store.”

The small business world is very different. Many independent retailers focus on being the place where you can get the stuff you can’t find at big box stores. The floors, racks and walls at Holy Cow! on Queen Street are filled with imported sculptures and trinkets.  Their hottest item right now is Turkish towels.

Stores like Holy Cow! rely heavily on foot traffic; and in that respect, it’s been a good season for them. The warmer weather Toronto has experienced lately has led to more people stopping in to take a look.

“And along the way they’ve been picking up other antiques, because when they do come in they realize just how original the place is,” says manager Onyx Copland. “It’s been quite busy, yeah.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is constantly taking stock of retail trends for small businesses and likes what it sees this year.

“The retail trends for 2014 have been really good so far,” says Chief Economist Ted Mallett. “In fact in November we saw optimism at its highest level since, really, 2010.”

Mallett says economists will have to wait at least a week before they can dig into the data to see just how retailers fared over the holidays. While a strong November was good news for small businesses, he cautions that December is never predictable.

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“For every two retailers that do really well, there’s one that’s not doing really well at all, so it tends to be a mixed bag,” he said.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for the economy overall this year, with job numbers rising and falling, the dollar taking a dip and oil and gas prices also falling. These are factors that can have impacts on retailers of all sizes, but Mallett says they won’t know the full impact until sometime next year.