Relief for retailers in last-minute dash to the shops

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The Independent Online

In the end, the crowds came, and in their thousands. Oxford Street in London was jammed yesterday with stressed shoppers laden with bags, sharp elbows and jostling queues.

After disappointing sales figures for early December, retailers feared that the credit crunch meant a lean Christmas at the tills.

But if the scenes in central London yesterday, on what was being billed as the busiest weekend of shopping all year, were anything to go by, it seems that many shoppers were simply leaving their sprees to the last minute. Early sales, waiting for pay day and cold weather were just some of the reasons why more people chose to leave this year's present-buying to the days leading up to Christmas.

The belated influx of customers came as a relief to retailers who were down last week compared with 2006 sales for the same period. With some items already marked down in shops such as French Connection and HMV, canny buyers were hoping to avoid paying full price for their gifts by leaving their shopping late.

Marcus Wittington and his fiance, Hannah Bartu, had travelled from Bath to try to grab some bargains in the sales. "We've definitely left it more to the last minute this year", said Mr Wittington, 36. "We heard that the sales had already started and we want to save for our wedding next year.

"Even so, we'll probably spend about 800, which we'll have to split on credit cards.But at Christmas I think it's best to just spend and worry afterwards."

Jace Tyrrell, a spokesman for the New West End company which represents retailers on Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, said that a weekend of late present-buying had exceeded their expectations at the tills.

"Every one seems to have left it to the last minute to buy their Christmas presents," he said.

Serena John-Baptist, 19, was trying to balance several heavy bags on each arm as she staggered out of the Disney Store. "Last year I was much more organised I don't know what happened. I think because the shops stay open so much closer to Christmas these days you don't have to worry so much."

She had arrived at Oxford Street early to make sure she got everything done. "I had to wait outside Selfridges in this huge queue for it to open", she said. "When they finally opened the doors everyone cheered there are obviously a lot of people like me who have lots left to do."

In HMV a snaking queue of panicked shoppers was winding through the DVD aisles. Jenny McKenzie, 50, was looking anxiously at piles of DVD box sets in the store. "I've really left it to the last minute this year, I'm so stressed", she said, glancing at her watch.

"I've got an hour to do all my shopping, and I've got to get eight presents; it's a nightmare. Every year I say I'll do it in November, but I never do; and I'm even later this Christmas".

Geraldine Cleary, 40, said she had been waiting to get paid before finishing the bulk of her shopping.

"I've been holding out for pay day, but even now I've had to put most stuff on the credit card. I reckon I'll easily spend 500 today, mostly on clothes and perfume. I'm quite scared I won't get it all done, but hopefully this way I'll save money as there are sales on now."