Retail survey offers Christmas sparkle

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UK retailers expect a better Christmas than last year as the festival trading period gathers pace. According to research from the American Express Retail Monitor, 48 per cent of UK retailers believe Christmas sales will be better than last year when several high street chains offloaded stock in the January sales.

The holiday period accounts for more than a quarter of annual retail turnover. Online sales are expected to jump from £5bn last year to £9bn this year.

A CBI survey revealed that an interest rate rise and increased prices from retailers contributed to a sharp fall in sales in October. Unseasonally hot weather has also dented sales of clothing and footwear.

Malcolm Pinkerton, an analyst at the British Retail Consortium, said: "In recent months, consumers' confidence has been hit by rising household bills, fears about the economy and further interest rate rises. Christmas is a crucial time for most retailers. After a slow autumn, they will be hoping shoppers have just been holding off spending until the festive season."

The sector was buoyed last week by Marks & Spencer, Britain's largest clothing retailer, which reported a bumper set of interim results.

Same-store sales of clothes and home furnishings rose by 7.9 per cent in the second quarter, benefiting from a new ad campaign featuring Elizabeth Jagger and Twiggy.

Stuart Rose, the company's chief executive, said that M&S, Primark and Tesco were "the only three retailers in the UK growing market share at the moment. Everybody else is either going sideways or going down."

The American Express survey found that 62 per cent of respondents expect the next 12 months to be an improvement over the corresponding period a year ago.