Sales seek to breathe life back into the high street

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Wary shoppers are being lured back to the high street by big discounts as retailers, shaken up by slow spending during the past few months, open their spring sales-season early.

Wary shoppers are being lured back to the high street by big discounts as retailers, shaken up by slow spending during the past few months, open their spring sales-season early.

Marks & Spencer has been the first of the big names to slash prices, offering discounts of up to 50 per cent in a move that appears to have caught many of its rivals unawares.

Olivia Ross of Marks & Spencer insisted the sale, which began on Thursday, had merely been brought forward to coincide with the busy Easter bank holiday weekend, but retail experts said it was an attempt to try to kick-start sluggish sales.

High Street trade has been in decline since October last year. According to figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics, last Christmas was the worst since 1977, down 0.6 per cent on last year. retail sales for February rose slightly but were still below the same period last year.

"Looking at the situation on the high street it does not surprise me that a few are starting sales early said Kate Ison of the BRC (British Retail Consortium). "You can see retail sales are quite clearly in decline at the moment, they are pretty sluggish. The feeling on the high street is quite nervous.

"Consumers are more and more cautious about spending. They are worried about further increases in interest rates, debts, house prices. Spending is generally weak and big-ticket items, such as furniture and electrical goods, are also affected. Over Christmas, people were not willing to put their hands in their pockets. Normally at that time of the year they would indulge a little bit more."

Bringing forward the sales season might prove a solution by getting consumers back into the habit of spending, Ms Ison explained: "The retailers have got to do something to inject some momentum into spending again. There is also competition. One retailer decides to start a sale early and it has a domino effect among all the others."

Spending figures may also get a boost from Gordon Brown's pre-election budget this week which did nothing to further weaken consumer confidence, she predicted.

Plenty of the big high street retailers are already offering discounts, although they are quick to emphasise that this was merely business as usual.

At Gap, staff insisted the discounts were not sales but the customary price cuts with turnover of stock every six weeks. "It is a bit of an organic process, much smaller than a normal all-singing, all-dancing sale, more a rack at the back of a shop," a spokeswoman for the fashion retailer insisted.

"Before Christmas it was a nightmare for everyone but since the beginning of the year our comparable sales have been good. We are quite happy at Gap. Our spring collection has been selling well and we have very little stock left."

At Monsoon, the situation was similar: "It is just our usual mid-season sale. It started at the end of February. A few items have been reduced to make space for the summer collection as knitwear is not going to be popular for much longer."



Women's classic bold pinstripe jacket: was £75 now £39

Truly You, silk balcony bra: was £22 now £9

Men's Blue Harbour classic fleece: was £19 now £9


Arabella wool-mix lace-trim skirt: was £70 now £20

Raphael cream knitted cashmere-mix wrap: was £75 now £37.50

Girl's gypsy party skirt: was £34 now £16


Ladies' raincoat: was £68 now £48

Men's low-rise boot-fit jeans: was £45, now £30

Ladies' stretch cardigan: was £29.50 now £14.99