Terry Duddy is bidding to be the nation's Santa Claus this year. The 47-year-old chief executive of the Argos retail chain has slashed the price of Christmas trees and a wide range of toys in an attempt to stimulate flagging sales in what has so far been a flat festive season.
Argos has cut the price of one of its artificial Christmas trees from £49.99 to £31.99 and is selling toys at half-price. The Action Man Speeder car has been cut to £9.99, the VJ Starz Karaoke machine to £39.99 and Boohbah soft toys to £7.49.
Argos declined to comment on the reasons for its decision, but other retail groups have been forced to follow suit.
Toys R Us is going in for promotional giveaways, the electrical retailer Currys has cut CDs and movie DVDs to £8.99. Argos is selling DVDs for as little as £2.99.
Even the normally rock-solid John Lewis Partnership has been suffering. The group said that nationwide turnover in its department stores in the week ending last Saturday was 0.3 per cent down on the same week last year.
But a spokeswoman reported that this included a "surge" from the middle of the week, culminating in a record level of business last Saturday. She admitted that this meant that the week had started very quietly.
This continues a mixed picture at the company. Last week Lewis claimed there had been a 17 per cent jump in sales compared with the previous week, when sales had been down.
Meanwhile Donaldsons, the property consultancy, said yesterday that rental values on shops in central London fell at an annual rate of 0.3 per cent in the last quarter as retailers continued to rein in new shop openings following weak spending.
Bryan Duncan, head of retail at Donaldsons, blamed the impact of Sars, the war in Iraq, closure of the Central Line and the congestion charge on the shortfall.
But he added: "If the recent interest rate rise and terrorist warnings does not put a dampener on Christmas spending then retailers will ramp up their expansion plans again in the New Year."