More high street blues

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The Independent Online
HIGH STREET retailers are resigned to a lacklustre Christmas, with sales probably no better than the disappointing figures seen last year.

The IRA bombing campaign and the wet weather have dampened already bleak prospects, and deep discounts are starting to appear amid fears that many retailers will be left with substantial unsold stock by 25 December.

However, because of the bunching of sales in the two or three days before Christmas Day, demand could still turn out better than expected, the optimists insist.

Few stores groups give out hard sales information at this time, preferring to make a formal statement in January. But anecdotal information is not promising.

Richard Hyman, managing director of Verdict Research, the retail conultants, said: 'It has been predictably weak. The best outcome will be sales on a par with last year. The likely outcome will be sales slightly down on last year.'

Grenville Peacock, chief executive of Bentalls, which operates seven department stores in the Home Counties, said: 'Trade is running at about the same level as last year, certainly no more.

'We're expecting there to be some top-up next week, but not enough to make it a good Christmas.'

Sales of toys were up 20 per cent on last year, boosted by strong demand for Thunderbirds and computer games, he said. But other areas were deeply depressed, especially clothing, which is normally buoyant at Christmas.

Dixons is rumoured to be cleaning up on computer games sales. The other side of this coin is that recorded music, and to a lesser extent videos, are said to be selling poorly.

December is even more important for retailers this year because of a disappointing November. For once, data from the CBI and the Government last week pointed in the same direction - that sales slipped back last month.