LAST-MINUTE Christmas shoppers are set to benefit today as high street stores slash prices in a bid to make the most of the busiest shopping period of the year.
Almost all major stores were holding pre-Christmas sales this weekend, with goods at half price and some chains, including clothes retailers H&M, Gap and New Look, offering up to 60 per cent off.
Shops have resorted to discounting earlier than usual after a bleak year for retailing, which saw sales consistently down on 2011 and Christmas shoppers slow to head out to the high streets.
And while out-of-town shopping centres reported high footfall throughout the weekend, stores on Edinburgh’s Princes Street yesterday were quieter than expected two days before Christmas.
The latest analysis of spending by the Scottish Retail Consortium showed that overall Scottish sales figures were down by 1.2 per cent compared with November 2011.
Fiona Moriarty, its director, said: “If you look at the year in review, it’s been a tough 12 months. Christmas trading is the most important time of year, so there’s been tough competition since mid-November, with promotions and discounts starting early.
“It’s a fantastic time to be a customer because there’s so much value. For the retailers, the winners will be those with the right stock levels and the right prices, so they aren’t left with a warehouse full goods to get rid of on Boxing Day.”
Retailers were still expecting lots of shopping to be done right up until the last minute today, and despite the discounts, some are expecting December sales figures to be much higher than expected.
Barry Blamire, managing director at John Lewis Edinburgh, said that his department store experienced two record weeks at the beginning of December, with an 11 per cent increase in sales.
He predicted, however, that the final weekend would be even better.
“With Christmas just around the corner, this weekend has been one of our busiest trading periods of the year as customers rush to finish any last-minute shopping,” he said.
“John Lewis across the UK has experienced strong trading over the festive period so far this year, reporting a record of £147.8 million in sales for the weekend of 16 December.”
James Bailey, director of The Centre in Livingston, yesterday also said that footfall had been ahead of previous years.
He said: “It’s definitely been one of the busiest weekends of the year, and with just one shopping day still left we expect to see plenty more purchases made on Christmas Eve,” he said.
Some also suggested low consumer confidence throughout the year had meant people had more money to spend in December.Supermarkets were expecting to cash in yesterday as families tried to get their Christmas dinner shopping done during shorter Sunday opening hours.
Sainsbury’s was expecting to sell 225,000 bottles of champagne, 90,000 turkeys and half a million kilograms of cheese over the weekend.
The supermarket giant also expected to sell 6,500 tonnes of potatoes and 52 million sprouts.
Saturday was reported to be the busiest shopping day of 2012 with consumers predicted to spend up to £5 billion over the course of the weekend as many retailers opened their doors until 11pm.
The British Retail Consortium predicted that shoppers were expected to spend an average of £190 each in the last-minute madness.
One credit card company said it expected to report that it had handled more than 30 million transactions on Saturday. Visa Europe said customers were set to spend £1.26 billion on its cards alone.
Busy - or not? The view from the streets
Lesley Murray, 47, from Edinburgh didn’t have the chance to shop earlier because of work. “I do shifts, so it’s been a nightmare. The shops have been mobbed. The majority have sales on.”
Mark Shand, 21, lives in London but is in Edinburgh for Christmas with his family: “I thought [the shops) would be mobbed, but the queues aren’t too bad – it’s been really quite quiet.”
Sophie Johnson, 15, from Edinburgh, was doing the last of her Christmas shopping. “Today’s one of the quietest days I’ve been in town. I’ve been coming up most weekends in December and it’s been mobbed. I’ve had to get presents for 15. I’m one of five, so it’s a big family and then there’s all my friends. There’s been a couple of sales, but not lots. ”
Jeri Vignelongue, 30, from Perth was in Edinburgh to visit the German market, but shopped as well. “If you do leave it to the last minute, you get all the bargains – that’s annoying when you see how much you could have saved. I thought it was going to be really busy.”