Shoppers on a spending spree

Shoppers have more than fulfilled the promise of a Christmas spending boom, with a last-minute rush helping to quell fears of disappointing sales, according to anecdotal evidence from stores throughout the UK.

Post-Christmas sales have also kicked off in buoyant fashion. Verdict Research, which compiles nationwide retail statistics, is "fairly upbeat" about the Christmas spending season. A Verdict spokesman said: "Retail sales for December were up about 7 per cent on the same period last year, which is not far from expectations."

Clothing seemed to have had a bad time compared to forecasts. But the spokesman added that more generally, although there were some downbeat figures for total sales in the week before Christmas, the last two days turned out to be buoyant.

As for the post-Christmas sales, the consultancy said they had got off to a good start.

The huge Lakeside Shopping Centre at Thurrock, Essex, attracts shoppers from all over the south-east of England, and as such its strong sales performance is a sign of the general picture. Heather Hudson-Oldnall, marketing manager, says Lakeside was visited by 36,000 cars a day in the run-up to Christmas, representing around 650,000 customers a week. This is up on last year's 32,000 cars per day in the same period.

Lakeside's busiest day of the year came on 27 December when 48,000 cars visited the complex, representing around 144,000 shoppers. Again this was up on last year's figure of around 44,000 cars.

The amount of money people spent during the run-up to Christmas definitely exceeded expectations, she says. "I don't think the Budget had any negative impact."

A spokesman for the John Lewis Partnership, the department store and Waitrose supermarket chain, said it had set itself a tough estimate for the two weeks to last Saturday, which as a group it had achieved. "Our 23 department stores signalled a 6-plus per cent increase compared to a year ago - about what we had hoped," said the spokesman.

Sue Sadler, a spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer, added to the Christmas cheer: "Towards the end of the Christmas period trade went very well. People were marching into the shops. Our sales, which started on Friday, have been very successful, extremely busy."