Sales prove to be damp squib

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THE CHRISTMAS sales began yesterday but shoppers were unable to find the spectacular bargains they were hoping for. Many said they had been lured by the promise of massive price cuts but were disappointed at the range of discounts on offer.

Pre-Christmas business was slower than expected and retailers were hoping that customers would make up for it at the sales. But the traditional scrum of expectant shoppers was missing.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents about 90 per cent of retailers, said that consumer confidence was low and many people had just stayed away.

Last year, faith in the economy was high and hopes of finding a good bargain rose when many stores announced that they had overstocked for Christmas. Shoppers queued through the night hoping to be the first through the doors to snap up the best prizes. Yesterday morning, however, there were only a few early starters waiting for the shops to open and no sign of mass sales fever.

Sharon Gleeson, who waited outside Selfridges in central London, was disappointed by the sale. "I got here early hoping to get a bargain but I just don't think there are any this year. All the stores just seem to have knocked pounds 20 off items," she said.

The BRC's Ann Grain said stores were aware of the lack of consumer confidence. "Retailers' hopes are that the story of last year will be repeated, in the sense that until after 21 December sales were very slow and then picked up," she said.

"Consumers are much more cautious. There may have been three interest rate cuts but there were six rises before that and people have this fear of depression around the corner. There are redundancies around and people are thinking `I could be next'."