Stores rejoice as shoppers return in late spending burst

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The Independent Online

High street shops are enjoying one of the best pre-Christmas spending sprees yet despite the loss of business caused by the collapse of tourism after 11 September.

High street shops are enjoying one of the best pre-Christmas spending sprees yet despite the loss of business caused by the collapse of tourism after 11 September.

With till receipts in central London recovering from a three-month "blip", department stores across the country are reporting higher revenue and millions of people are taking advantage of supermarkets opening through the night.

Manchester is expected to have its most profitable Christmas for five years.

The London Chamber of Commerce said shops in outer London boroughs were "approaching all-time records" of sales, but the centre was still suffering because of the lack of American tourists.

That was backed up yesterday by the luxury clothes and leather store Mulberry, which reported a drop in sales of 8 per cent since the terrorist attacks in America. A spokesman for the shop said the loss was attributable to the collapse of tourism, which had had a severe impact on Mulberry and its competitors.

However, he said mid-December had seen much better business. "The sales figures for this week and last week look as if they are going to be at least as good as last Christmas. It was a very nasty blip but it looks as if we are back to normal trading and I don't think it's going to be a bad Christmas."

The John Lewis department store chain said sales in its 26 shops in the week to 15 December were 4.8 per cent up on the same period last year, at £76m. Nigel Wreford-Brown, its merchandise director, said sales in John Lewis shops in London were at the same level as last year, with Oxford Street the busiest. The strongest sales performers were shops outside the capital.

"Central London really did suffer after 11 September and is only now recovering from it. Outside London sales are stronger and it seems that consumers are more confident the further you get from the capital," he said. Southampton, Glasgow, Manchester and Solihull were doing particularly well, he added.

Internet sales had taken off beyond all expectations, he said, with 1,000 orders a day being made online.

Manchester was heading for its most profitable Christmas since the IRA bomb of 1996 destroyed a large part of the city centre, the city's Chamber of Commerce said. A spokeswoman said the refurbishment of the city centre had attracted more people than before and the most recent two Saturdays had been the busiest for many years. "It is probably the best since the bomb in 1996. Traders have reported that December is going extremely well and it is affecting all shops, large and small," she said.

The supermarket chain Tesco said a million shoppers had visited its shops on Thursday night, with another four million expected to have used them by today.

Kevin Grace, Tesco's operations director, said: "It seems that British shoppers are now following the example of Europeans and Americans who prefer to stagger their trips to the supermarket instead of leaving everything to the weekend."

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