Shoppers delay dash for gifts in hope of bargains

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The Independent Online

Consumers are increasingly leaving gift purchases to the last minute, says a survey that predicts a £4.3bn spending surge across the country in 10 hours today.

Consumers are increasingly leaving gift purchases to the last minute, says a survey that predicts a £4.3bn spending surge across the country in 10 hours today.

One person in four has delayed shopping to Christmas Eve either through lack of time or the prospect of last-minute bargains, according to research by the internet bank Egg.

The survey predicts that tills will take £120,000 a second today, mainly from men buying perfume, lingerie and jewellery. In a poll at the end of November, nine out of ten women said they had finished their shopping.

Retailers are hoping that the late surge will boost takings but there is little expectation of matching revenue at the peak of the consumer boom last year. Pressure of time, expectation of widespread discounting (which started in 1999) and a four-day weekend leading up to Christmas this year led shoppers to delay their purchases.

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said Christmas would be steady rather than spectacular after sales growth averaging 3 per cent in October and November.

Nigel Wreford-Brown, commercial director of John Lewis, said it had been "a good week but not a great week" up to Saturday. The flagship Oxford Street branch had matched last year's performance but in general the high street stores were being outdone by out-of-town sites such as Bluewater in Kent. "People have obviously seen the benefit of better parking and avoiding the perils of public transport," he said.

Bluewater reported a "very good weekend" helped by sales at Laura Ashley, House of Fraser, Marks & Spencer, Habitat and Gap. The Trafford Centre near Manchester said it had attracted similar numbers of visitors as last year. But shoppers were spending more money, with the average spend of an individual, couple or family increasing from £116 to £128.

Demand for products such as DVD players, MP3 players and mobile phones with picture messaging continued to prop up sales. Digital radios have also proved popular, with 80,000 sold in the past three months, according to the Digital Radio Development Bureau. In the toy market, games consuls have been overtaken by karaoke machines as the must-have item, after the success of the television shows Pop Idol and Pop Stars.

The Barbie incarnation Rapunzel has again proved a hit, the interactive Micropets at £10 are in short supply and several stores have sold out of the Begblade spinning top.

Sales of winter clothing have suffered from unseasonably mild weather, and retailers in London have been offering discounts of up to 60 per cent on wool items and heavy coats.

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