Happy Virtual Christmas! Retailers launch online sales early

Major retailers are to launch internet sales on Christmas Eve - and earlier - in the hope of attracting millions of people expected to shop online over Christmas, it was disclosed today.

Tesco said it was starting its online sale today with offers on furniture, homeware and sports products followed by electrical items on Christmas Eve from 8pm.

John Lewis, Comet and Halfords said they would open their virtual doors on Christmas Eve, with B&Q, the home improvement and garden centre retailer, starting an online and in-store sale from Thursday.

The move comes as the online trade body IMRG said an estimated 4.3 million shoppers will go online this Christmas and spend £120 million, an average of £27.90 each.

Tesco said it expected Christmas Day to be a key time for online sales after more than a quarter of a million people logged on to Tesco Direct on Christmas Day last year to grab a bargain.

The supermarket chain said it expected these figures to increase this year.

Sainsbury's said it launches a non-food online sale tomorrow offering "fantastic" deals on items from homeware to electrical, furniture and home entertainment.

Tanya Lawler, director of Sainsbury's online, said: "This will be our very first online festive sale in non food, offering hundreds of deals across our extensive range, since we introduced non food to our online offering in July this year.

"Our deals, across our entire non food range, are ideal for customers looking to make big savings on key items over the festive period and throughout January 2010."

Asda Direct sales start today with offers on ranges including electricals, furniture and homeware.

Halfords, the cycle and car accessory retailer, said it expected Christmas Day this year to be its busiest day online.

Electrical specialist Comet predicted its website will attract a record 1,682,200 visitors over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, with a surge of bargain hunters going online between 7pm and 9pm on Christmas Day.

Bill Moir, Comet head of marketing, said: "In the run-up to Christmas we've seen a rise in sales of laptops, cameras, kitchen gadgets and large screen TVs and we expect these to be some of our most popular products during the Christmas Day rush.

"With the World Cup approaching, many customers will use the opportunity to upgrade their TVs, opting for bigger screens of 40 inches and above and the latest LED technology."

Krishan Rama, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, said there was an expectation that sales figures for December would improve after a "poor performance" last year.

He said: "There is a sense that some people are feeling more confident than this time last year because they think maybe the worst is over - but then 2010 has many uncertainties.

"We don't know who is going to form the next Government and we don't know what is going to happen to Government spending and taxation and what will happen to unemployment.

"So all these factors will have to be considered."

Robin Goad, research director at Experian Hitwise, the online marketing company, said: "Last year Christmas Day was the seventh busiest online day of the year for online retailers, while Boxing Day was the busiest.

"Over the last few years the importance of these two days has been increasing, and we see no reason for it to be any different this Christmas.

"We have already seen that shoppers are willing to hold out longer for a bargain this year, with 'Cyber Monday' moving a week closer to Christmas.

"This behaviour is likely to carry through to the post-Christmas period, with people logging on after Christmas lunch to find the best discounts before hitting the high street and shopping malls the following day."

Meanwhile, retailers said they were hopeful that Boxing Day - falling on a Saturday this year - will be one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

Selfridges said it would be opening its doors to bargain-savvy crowds on Oxford Street in central London at 9am on Boxing Day with its regional stores in Birmingham and Manchester also open on that day from 8am.

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