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Bumper Christmas despite freeze, predict retailers

Retailers are confident of a bumper Christmas despite predictions of the final week of shopping being marred by another big freeze.

This weekend - the final one before Christmas - Britain is braced for a repeat of the snow that brought chaos to the country in recent weeks.

The freezing and icy conditions kept shoppers at home and got traders off to a poor start to December.

But the tills began ringing as the thaw set in.

Despite indications of a white Christmas and the nation's high streets freezing over again next week, retailers were in fairly buoyant mood.

Sarah Cordey, from the British Retail Consortium, said: "In places where there's been severe weather it has disrupted sales.

"Retailers are hoping shopping which wasn't done earlier in the month will still be done between now and Christmas.

"The indications are that stores are catching up.

"The milder weather has brought Christmas shoppers flooding into stores, which have been busier than would normally be expected even for this time of year.

"Retailers are also pinning their hopes on a bumper final weekend.

"Extreme weather might be changing week-by-week spending patterns, but chances are that sales in December overall will be very similar to usual and there will be minimal impact on figures for the month as a whole.

"Clearly retailers don't want a repeat performance of the widespread snowfall which happened at the beginning of December, which would be a bad thing at this critical time."

One survey of more than 250 retailers found 55% were optimistic of strong sales unaffected by potential snowy weather.

Roman Bukary, of NetSuite, which conducted the research, said despite the finding, almost one in three businesses would rather run out of stock than have excess products on their hands.

He said: "It's hugely encouraging to see UK retailers take an optimistic view of trading conditions as we move towards 2011.

"However, keeping stock low and relying on suppliers to bridge any gaps in supply will stress retailer-distributor collaboration, require seamless communication and in case of any breakdown in the trading network, might leave shoppers disappointed.

"The wholesale/distribution sector is used to pressure from their retail partners, but need to gear up for today's unpredictable trading conditions.

"Pressure to cut costs, accelerate fulfilment and increased competition within the industry means that wholesale/distributors need to ensure they have every tool at their disposal to streamline their operations and change the way they work to cope with what's likely to be a stressful and competitive Christmas crush - even before the snow factors in."

Forecasters predicted a light dusting of snow tomorrow for England and Wales but heavier showers going into Friday with up to 15cm in parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Coupled with a return to freezing temperatures, a question mark hangs over whether Britain's transport network will grind to a halt again meaning disappointment for thousands of onlineshoppers awaiting delivery of presents.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport insisted the Government was "doing everything possible to keep Britain moving."

"Overall, we are better prepared than last year but we are not complacent," he said.

He added that road salt stocks were being "regularly monitored, so that we can identify risks early on and take further action where necessary."

This week Royal Mail pledged a £20 million investment to keep business running during "the most severe weather in 30 years".

They were taking on an additional 3,000 staff to cope with increased work during Christmas and boosting their delivery fleet with an additional 500 drivers and extra 250 large lorries.

Mark Higson, Royal Mail managing director, said: "We are pulling out all the stops to deliver this Christmas.

"The worst December weather the UK has seen in almost 30 years has had an impact on our services to some parts of the country.

"With this additional £20m investment, we are committed to ensure we deliver letters and packets as quickly as possible."