Mortgage and interest-rate cuts have played their part, coupled with the larger stores slashing prices by half on many items.
"Overall we're expecting people to take advantage of the sales," said a spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium. "We're expecting them to be better than last year." She added that January 1995 was a "disappointment", with retail sales dropping to pounds 10.75bn from pounds 20.7bn last December.
This year is likely to be better, with a more robust consumer confidence: "We've also got the prospect of more money in our pockets in April and possibly another interest-rate cut in the New Year. This should make people a little more comfortable about spending," the spokeswoman said.
Richard Perks, retail analyst with the market research organisation Verdict, said: "The sales should be good, partly because of poor overall retail sales this year." He expects retailers to be cautious, and to knock down "a lot" of prices on their stock.
Paul Keenan, PR manager of the MetroCentre in Gateshead, Europe's largest shopping centre agreed: "There will be a lot of bargains and we think purchasing will be very good." Last year the centre saw 142,000 shoppers through its doors on the first day of the sales.
Post-Christmas sales in the larger stores can create a formidable turnover. Selfridges, a major retailer on London's Oxford Street, says that the winter sale accounts for 15 per cent of its annual turnover. The first week of the sale is also Selfridges' busiest week of the year with 85,000 people expected through the door tomorrow.
Marks & Spencer would not reveal details of its sale lines in advance. But a spokeswoman said: "The sale is a way of clearing merchandise, clearing winter stock out so that we can start introducing the Spring ranges."
Liberty expects to see at least 50,000 bargain-hunters on the first day of the sale at its Regent Street store, and is offering half price on designer names such as Vivienne Westwood and Liza Bruce.
The frozen food giant Iceland will join the fray this week by firing an early shot across the bows of competitors in the New Year supermarket price war. The high-street chain is turning the clock back a decade by cutting prices to 1986 levels on hundreds of items for two weeks from 30 December. "Everyone wants bargains in the New Year and other retailers may have to follow our move," said Iceland chairman Malcolm Walker.
Most of the big stores, including Selfridges and Liberty, begin their sales at 9am tomorrow. But for those who believe there is only one sale, Harrods will not be starting until 3 January.
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