Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Thursday, 24 December 2009

Shopping bargains 'less likely this year', experts say

Cash and receipts
Credit has been harder to secure for many consumers

Shoppers searching for bargains in the seasonal sales may find they are a year too late for the best deals, according to experts.

Retailers offered huge discounts at Christmas in 2008 as they had excess stock when the financial crisis struck.

But this time, recession-hit stores were more cautious with the amount of supplies they bought in.

However, shoppers could still be attracted to big-ticket items ahead of the value-added tax rise on 1 January.

The sales tax will return to 17.5% from 15%, potentially pushing up the prices of goods such as dishwashers and fridge-freezers significantly.

Shopping spree

Retail sales have proved surprisingly resilient during the downturn, with some people seeing their disposable income increase owing to low mortgage rates.

Last year we saw earlier sales with 25% off in the days leading up to Christmas, but there is less stock around this year and retailers have been more cautious
Theresa Wickham, retail analyst

A survey for Sainsbury's Finance suggested that UK shoppers would spend £951,000 a minute on Christmas Eve.

Official Christmas retail figures will not be released until later in January, but experts said that - whatever the appetite - bargains would be fewer and farther between than a year earlier.

Tim Danaher, editor of Retail Week, said that sales would not be on the same scale as last year when stores were overloaded with stock at the start of the sudden economic downturn.

He said the big High Street chains and fashion retailers would still be offering bargains, and many shops that sold a range of items were trying to catch bargain-hunters early.

"Last year we saw earlier sales with 25% off in the days leading up to Christmas, but there is less stock around this year and retailers have been more cautious," said retail analyst Theresa Wickham.

Early sales

A number of stores have tried to tap into the growth of online shopping by starting their sales on their websites just before Christmas.

Sales shoppers
Shoppers are still set to hit the stores despite the cold weather

Home improvement stores, such as B&Q, department stores including Debenhams, electrical stores such as Comet, and supermarkets like Tesco, all started their "January" sales before Christmas.

Increasing numbers of shoppers have logged on to their computers on Christmas Day in recent years, and IMRG - which tracks internet shopping trends - said it expected a 17% rise in online shopping through December compared with a year ago.

A survey of 3,859 people by the UK Payments Council, which oversees payments strategy, found that people in the south-east of England were most likely to have a plastic card.

Credit has been more difficult to secure for some consumers in the downturn, and the Payments Council said the West Midlands residents were the least likely to have plastic cards.

Adults in East Anglia made the lowest number of cash machine withdrawals at 51 per person annually, according to the poll.

"[This report] demonstrates how as a nation our payment habits have evolved to take advantage of new technology and to meet the needs of our ever more demanding lifestyles," said spokeswoman Sandra Quinn.

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