Shoppers set to splurge 1bn on busiest day of the year


Cut throat Christmas: At last the High Street”s busy, but is it too late for some stores
1 billion was spent on Saturday aloneGlasgow”s Braehead, Manchester”s Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Thurrock all “packed” throughout the weekendBut experts warn up to 3,000 stores could close in January

Stores enjoyed their busiest weekend of the year as millions of shoppers finally came out to snap up cut-price deals after months of disappointing sales.

Queues formed outside some shopping centres before opening yesterday and an estimated 1billion was spent on Saturday alone.

But experts warned retailers still faced an ‘austerity Christmas’ with profits down on last year and a likely ‘High Street bloodbath’ in January, with up to 3,000 stores facing closure.

Many last minute customers were tempted in over the weekend by a raft of bargains

Many last minute customers were tempted in over the weekend by a raft of bargains

Christmas shoppers in Liverpool on Saturday, which was the busiest shopping day of the year so far

Christmas shoppers in Liverpool on Saturday, which was the busiest shopping day of the year so far

They suggested that because so many cut-price deals had been needed to lure customers, the heavy footfall would not necessarily translate into large profits.

Around 11million shoppers spent up to 1.5million a minute after much of the country left buying presents to the final full weekend before Christmas.

Capital Shopping Centres, which owns Glasgow’s Braehead, Gateshead’s Metrocentre, Cardiff’s St David’s, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Thurrock, said its 14 sites had been ‘packed’ throughout Saturday and Sunday.

Christmas shoppers at Derby city centre

Christmas shoppers at Derby city centre

John Lewis also reported record sales of 133.1million in the week to Saturday, which was 10.6 per cent higher than a year ago and the highest weekly figure ever achieved.

Most consumers were attracted by a raft of bargains, with clothes store Jigsaw offering 30 per cent off party wear and half-price Scalextric sets available at ModelZone.

Others defied the economic downturn to splash out on expensive items, with Selfridges reporting a surge in sales in Van Cleef and Cartier diamond necklaces and luxury watches.

But despite the rammed shopping centres and High Streets, the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted overall sales in December would be down 1.7 per cent compared with November, and 0.3 per cent lower than a year ago.

Chief executive Douglas McWilliams insisted consumer confidence was ‘shot to pieces’ amid the economic gloom. He said: ‘Retailers are in for an austerity Christmas. Those who have left their shopping late can expect bargains aplenty because retailers are working hard to shift excess stock.’

Shops have been forced to introduce big reductions on products to get customers through the door

Shops have been forced to introduce big reductions on products to get customers through the door

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: ‘This was a make-or-break weekend for many retailers who were hoping for a big turnout after a disappointing few months.

‘It does appear that large numbers went to the shops and that this was probably the busiest shopping weekend of the year, but it is too early to say whether this has translated into significant profits.

‘Stores put on so many cut-price deals to attract consumers that profit margins will inevitably have been squeezed.’

Retail analyst Jonathan De Mello, from the CB Richard Ellis consultancy,warned up to 30,000 shop workers could lose their jobs as a swathe of small independent retailers and some major High Street names are forced to close as banks call in heavy debts.

It is the most gloomy prediction since Christmas 2008, when the UK economy was at its worst point since the start of the downturn.

Currently 15 per cent of shops in Britain are vacant. This is expected to rise by 1 per cent by the end of festive period, Mr De Mello said.

He said: ‘The country is facing a High Street bloodbath immediately after Christmas which will have a devastating impact on shopworkers and other businesses that supply shops. It is unlikely that retailers will survive the next rental quarter unscathed.’

An estimated 1 billion was spent by shoppers in the UK on Saturday alone

An estimated 1 billion was spent by shoppers in the UK on Saturday alone