Scotland’s shops gamble on £12m an hour sales bonanza

SCOTLAND’S beleaguered high street stores offered discounts of up to 80 per cent and extended their opening hours yesterday in a bid to recover from the worst pre-Christmas sales slump on record.

Retailers are hoping for a Boxing Day bounce following a “miserable” run-up to Christmas for some of the country’s best-known stores, which saw a year on year fall in sales with Scotland lagging behind the rest of the UK.

Thousands of shoppers appeared to take the bait yesterday and were up before dawn in search of bargains, with queues at Braehead Shopping Centre in Renfrewshire forming from 5am.

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Analysts estimated that as much as £12 million would have been spent in Scotland every hour yesterday in the post-Christmas push to lure customers to the checkouts.

Stores cut prices by up to 80 per cent, after it was revealed that total sales were down 1.3 per cent on the same month last year.

Ryan Manson, general manager for Aberdeen’s Union Square, said it had its busiest week since opening in October 2009, with more than 350,000 people through its doors.

He said: “Since we opened the doors this morning, bargain hunters have been out in force, suggesting that the in-store discounts and post-Christmas sales are generating lots of interest.”

High street giant M&S opened its doors on Boxing Day for the first time ever, amid fears that the firm would lose out to competitors during the biggest spending frenzy of the year. The attempt to attract customers comes as major high street names are facing crisis, including the lingerie chain La Senza, which has already said it intends to enter administration due to poor trading conditions.

HMV also said declining sales could force it to sell its live music division to raise funds, as it battles with another drop in sales, while confectioner Thorntons has issued a profit warning to its shareholders, blaming weak consumer confidence.

Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said that the leading chains were “desperate to get sales by heavily discounting” products in the post-Christmas period.

However, CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan issued a stark warning that stores’ discounts and early opening times would not compensate for the “poor” sales figures in the run-up to Christmas.

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A spokeswoman for Debenhams said the chain had offered a “lot more” discounts than last year, with beauty products and fragrance gift sets among the most sought-after bargains.

She said the department store had opened from 7am until 10pm, with discounts of up to 70 per cent on some products.

More than 1,500 shoppers queued outside Silverburn, Shopping Centre in Pollok from 5am. The centre’s director, David Pierotti, said shops had offered their deepest reductions yet to attract customers.

Gordon Drummond, manager of the Harvey Nichols branch in Edinburgh, said the shop had experienced a footfall of more than 10,000 people yesterday – a figure he insisted was higher than last year.

Mr Drummond said the store had promoted deep reductions in top-end fashion products such as Prada leather jackets, which were reduced from £2,000 to £1,000.

Estimates from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) suggest that as much as £12m could have been spent per hour by shoppers in Scotland yesterday.

Retailers ‘pulled out all the stops’

Richard Dodd of the SRC said firms had been forced to “discount in a big way” due to “difficult run-up to Christmas”.

He said: “In cash terms, I would expect more to have been spent than a year ago, but not in real terms when we allow for inflation.

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“The consequence of a difficult run-up to Christmas has meant that retailers have realised that they had to generate sales. At a time when many customers have been unwilling to spend, retailers have had to discount in a big way.”

The SRC previously revealed that November’s retail figures were 1.3 per cent down on the same month last year, compared with a figure of 0.7 per cent for the UK as a whole.

Scottish business leader Mr McMillan said the downward trend in sales before Christmas had forced retailers to “pull out all the stops” to boost trade.

He said: “December really has been a miserable Christmas for retailers and the increased openings hours on Boxing Day and deeply discounted goods show that retailers were extremely anxious to shift goods.

“Undoubtedly retailers have tried to pull out all the stops for the Boxing Day sales to make up for the miserable December. However, I very much doubt that this will compensate for the overall poor Christmas retail period, as there just isn’t the spending power there.

“We’ve seen M&S opening for the first time on Boxing Day, in what appears to be a real break with tradition.”

Prof Sparks said high street shops would be alarmed because were consumers were now starting to buy goods over the internet on Christmas day rather than waiting for the Boxing Day sales.

He said: “As it’s been a bad time for retailers, they have been desperate to get sales by heavily discounting in this way.

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“We’re also seeing a lot of sales on the internet now on Christmas Day, with people prepared to spend a bit of time out that day to try to find bargains.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 5.6 million drivers across the UK were thought to have taken to the roads over the course of the day on shopping trips.

Ian McLelland, centre director at East Kilbride Shopping Centre, said: “Boxing Day is always one of the busiest days in the shopping calendar and 2011 is proving to be no exception.

“Despite the heavy discounting before Christmas it’s clear that shoppers are still looking to pick up a bargain or two. Many shoppers arrived well before the doors opened.”

Selfridges said it had seen its biggest ever first hour of trading across the UK, with hourly takings expected to peak at £1.3m.

Brent Cross shopping centre in north-west London said 10,000 had come through the doors within an hour of opening. General manager Tom Nathan said: “We had queues of over 500 people when we opened the doors.”

The Liverpool One shopping centre said it was expecting up to 125,000 people yesterday. Estate director Chris Bliss said: “The Boxing Day sales bring out the shopaholics and the bargain-hunters.”