HIGH street retailers are preparing for what they hope will be the busiest day of the year, amid disappointing sales figures in the run-up to Christmas.
The British Retail Consortium predicts this weekend will be “the big one”, as consumers spend up to £5 billion – equivalent to almost £30,000 a second. Today will be the busier of the two days.
Visa Europe also expects today to be the year’s busiest shopping day, with customers set to spend £1.26bn on its cards alone. The company predicts it will process 31.9 million transactions, with 2-3pm the busiest hour.
It said shoppers appeared to be heading for a “spree” and hoping to bag a bargain, with many shops discounting ahead of the Boxing Day sales.
Attracting shoppers this weekend will be crucial to the retail sector, which is experiencing a 3 per cent downturn in spending. Shops have also been emptier than usual because of a huge upsurge in the number of people buying gifts online.
Visa Europe commercial director Dr Steve Perry said: “Competition for consumer spending is fierce, with growing numbers of consumers still visiting online retailers to snap up bargains ahead of anticipated discounting on the high street in the final furlong before Christmas.”
Shoppers in Rose Street, Edinburgh, said yesterday the shops had been more subdued than normal this year.
James Gill, a caterer from Broxburn, said: “This year is a little quieter, although my son works at the German market and he says it’s been busier there this year than it was last Christmas. People are still spending money either way, though, in spite of the downturn.”
Michael Thrippleton, a physics researcher at Edinburgh University, said: “It’s fairly busy today, but it’d be even more so if the weather was better.”
Retailers remained optimistic of a massive surge in last-minute shoppers.
Barry Blamire, managing director at John Lewis Edinburgh, said: “We’ve found that shopping in store and online peaks at different times. The last few weeks have seen strong online sales, with customers planning their purchases in advance, while this weekend we’re anticipating a last-minute boost across the Scottish branches.”
Peter Beagley, general manager of Braehead Shopping Centre, Glasgow, said: “The final weekend before Christmas will see an army of shoppers descend, buying gifts for friends and family.
“I know it’s an old cliché, but the tills really have been ringing like jingle bells. We expect this weekend is going to be the busiest of the year, as people’s monthly salary for December has just been paid, it’s the last weekend before Christmas and we’re open until midnight.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Retail Consortium said: “This is the crucial trading period of the year for many retailers.
“After a slow start, footfall has been gaining steady momentum over recent weeks, and we’re expecting this weekend to be the busiest in terms of Christmas shopping.
“People have left their shopping especially late this year, in part because many are reluctant to commit to spending in these tough times. Many people are waiting it out for bargains and aware of this final trading weekend immediately before Christmas, which the calendar didn’t give us last year.”
He added: “Christmas sales as a whole will be respectable if not spectacular, given continued difficulties in the economic environment.”