Shoppers are expected to splurge more than £3bn on bargains during the New Year sales, which begin today. Retail chains are offering discounts of up to 70 per cent off pre-Christmas prices on everything from clothes to gadgets.
The discounting follows a lacklustre Christmas for the shops, with low enthusiasm blamed on the rise of online shopping, the mild autumn and credit-card debt.
The number of High Street visits by Christmas Eve shoppers fell by 43 per cent compared with the same day last year, figures released yesterday show.
However, Christmas Eve fell on a restricted Sunday trading day this year, while in 2005 it was on a Saturday. And the number of shopper visits on this Saturday were 8 per cent higher than on Christmas Eve 2005, according to figures from the Retail FootFall Index.
Natasha Burton, a marketing manager at FootFall, said: "The Christmas weekend figures, which signal the culmination of the shopping period, show that Saturday was the best day of the weekend. It seems that shoppers have taken advantage of the long build up to complete their chores by Christmas Eve to allow them to spend the day travelling or enjoying the festive spirit with friends and family."
Amid signs of difficulty, some retailers - particularly clothes shops - have been running sales for weeks during December. Many retailers offered guerrilla sales - one-day promotions with little notice - and three-for-the-price-of-two offers. To shift unsold stock, price cuts will deepen in coming days.
The post-Christmas sales will be eagerly awaited this year to see whether bargain hunters will be out in force. While many begin on Boxing Day, some are to start later. Eva Longoria, a star of the television programme Desperate Housewives, will open the Harrods sale Thursday.
Marks & Spencer, the UK's biggest general store, reopens tomorrow, with savings of up to 50 per cent on selected clothing, homeware and food lines. Explaining the Boxing Day closure, Stuart Rose, its chief executive, said: "Our staff have worked hard this year, so we'll be giving them a well-earned break."
Richard Dodd, from the British Retail Consortium, said Christmas had been neither a "bonanza nor a disaster" for retailers. "All the dreadful doom and gloom predictions have not been fulfilled," he said.
Roger Bootle, an economic adviser to Deloitte Consulting, said: "Consumers will wake up on 1 January and come back to reality with a bump as they face the poor state of their finances.
"Higher utility bills and interest payments mean less money is left ... And rapid rises in the number of people looking for work have made it hard for workers to get higher pay rises to compensate them for this."
The pick of the bunch
From Thursday: Knightsbridge,and online at www.harrods.com, 9am-9pm.
The most infamous post-Christmas scrum offers big opportunities: a re-edition of Balenciaga's 1964 black knotted dress, knocked down to half price (£599, from £1,000). Initial reductions are 30 to 50 per cent.
From today: Call 020-7473 9630 for locations nationwide. 10am-7pm.
Up to 70 per cent off is more generous than the average sale discount. Women go for eighties-inspired eveningwear, like the "Soprano" sequin dress at £77 down from £155.
* HARVEY NICHOLS
From today: Edinburgh, 10am-7pm.
From tomorrow: Knightsbridge, 10am-9pm; Manchester, 9am-9pm; Birmingham, 10am-8pm; Leeds, 10am-8pm; Dublin, 10am-9pm.
Discounts of up to 50 per cent on all lines. The most coveted items include Lanvin's black "Illusion" sheath dress at £1,116, down from £1,860.
* JOHN LEWIS
From today: The Trafford Centre, Manchester, 9am-8pm, and online at www.johnlewis.com.
From tomorrow: nationwide, 9am-close (see website for closing times).
The department store that sells everything is offering 30 per cent off Longchamp handbags, 50 per cent off men's Levi's and 25 per cent off Jamie Oliver's kitchenware.
* HOUSE OF FRASER
From today: Birmingham, 10am-6pm; Norwich, 9.30am-8pm; Bluewater, 10am-6pm; Lakeside, 9am-7pm; Sheffield Meadowhall, 9am-6pm; Gateshead MetroCentre, 9am-6pm; Oxford Street, 9.30am-9pm; Reading The Oracle, 10am-6pm; Leicester, 10am-5pm; and all Scottish stores, 9am-6pm.
From tomorrow: all other stores and online at www.houseoffraser.co.uk (see website for opening times).
Classic clothing, luxury luggage, teen fashion and an array of hosiery with mark downs up to 60 per cent.
From today: Oxford Street, 9.30am-9.30pm; Manchester Exchange Square, 8am-7pm; Manchester Trafford Centre, 9am-10pm; Birmingham Bullring, 8am-8pm.
The array of labels is overwhelming.
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