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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 December 2005, 13:57 GMT
Christmas shoppers out in force
Shoppers on Oxford Street, London
Half a million people thronged to London's Oxford Street
Millions of people have packed UK stores and shopping centres on one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Retailers have reported hordes of people hunting for gifts on the final full shopping weekend before Christmas.

Despite predictions of a slow start, shopping centres said sales are up on last year, with experts pointing to boosted consumer confidence.

Early sales and special promotions are also thought to have contributed to the boost in numbers.

'Busiest day of year'

Shopping centres around Britain reported strong sales over the weekend.

Half a million people flocked to Oxford Street in London on Saturday, which became a pedestrian-only zone in an attempt to attract shoppers.

A spokesman for the Oxford Street Association, which represents retailers there, said it was likely to prove the busiest Saturday of the year before Christmas.

"Yesterday was very busy and I expect it to be very busy today because this is the last full weekend before Christmas," he said.

At least 65,000 people will have passed through our doors this weekend
Fay Jameson, Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal

"I think the cold snap has helped as people stock up on woollens and winter clothes.

"There are some pre-Christmas promotions around."

Queues

He denied retailers had been struggling in the run-up to the festive season.

"November showed an upward growth for the first time since July.

"It has been challenging since July, but the increase in the last few weeks has been encouraging."

In Newcastle, the MetroCentre hit the 100,000 mark every day this week and expected this weekend's figures to be the same or higher.

A spokeswoman said: "On Saturday we had more than 116,000 people through the doors and we expect to do well on Sunday. We are quite well up on last year in terms of figures."

'Extreme shopping'

It seems quite a lot of customers are leaving it to the last minute this year
Spokesperson for Sheffield's Meadowhall complex

At Braehead, near Glasgow, "hundreds of thousands" of shoppers were expected to have passed through the doors this weekend.

A spokesperson added: "We had a very busy Saturday. Sunday is expected to be the same.

"We closed at 7pm last night but could have stayed open later because of the demand."

Meanwhile, at Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal, staff worked hard to cater for "extreme shopping".

Necessity

Duty manager Fay Jameson said: "At least 65,000 people will have passed through our doors this weekend.

"We had about 33,000 people yesterday - that's the busiest Saturday this year and up on last year by about 5%.

"Today is also very busy and we expect to go into overflow car parking by about 3pm."

Ms Jameson said there were sales around but people were now shopping "out of necessity".

She added: "We have also got a cinema and there are lots of good films on like King Kong, which help bring people in."

Discounts

At Sheffield's Meadowhall complex, it seemed many shoppers were leaving things to the last minute in an effort to get better deals.

Duty manager Peter Bellhouse said: "It was a very busy day yesterday and it looks like Sunday will prove another very busy day.

"The shops open at 11am on Sundays but there were a lot of people in window shopping before 10am today.

"There were big queues outside some of the stores as well as outside Santa's Grotto.

"We're expecting it to be one of the busiest weekends of the year.

"It seems quite a lot of customers are leaving it to the last minute this year.

"It's like they are playing a game with the retailers - if they hold off long enough, they believe the shops are going to discount."

'Final crunch'

Internet retailers are the ones expected to benefit most from the growth in spending.

A survey published last week suggested that almost two in five (38%) British adults would do some of their Christmas shopping online, up from 22% in 2001.

Retail analyst FootFall said shopping visits increased by 9.5% last week compared with the previous week.

But levels were still down on 2003 and 2004.

Natasha Burton, marketing manager at FootFall, said online shopping, the rise of the supermarket and a reduction in what people were spending were to blame.

"But I think it is now ramping up," she said. "People are realising there is only one week to go and so the final crunch is coming."


SEE ALSO:
Online Christmas shopping soars
15 Dec 05 |  Business
Strong growth in UK retail sales
15 Dec 05 |  Business



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