Page last updated at 15:56 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Sale fever 'not enough for shops'

High Street Shoppers
Some shoppers were forced to queue for an hour in order to pay

The annual stampede to the post-Christmas sales will not save stores from a grim 2009, the head of the British Retail Consortium says.

Thousands of shoppers have flocked take advantage of price cuts of up to 70%.

But the consortium's director-general Stephen Robertson said declining sales, heavy discounts and rising costs meant retail jobs were under threat.

He said December was "poor" overall, despite department store John Lewis reporting pre-Christmas sales up 2.5%.

"We had poor sales in October, worse sales in November and retailers were telling me that December started very poorly indeed," Mr Robertson told BBC Radio 4s Today programme.

"I suspect the rush just before Christmas and what looks like a very successful Boxing Day probably won't have clawed that back."

Research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggested that 82% of high street retailers offered either sales or promotions in the run up to Christmas.

Margins are being crushed by these fabulous promotions that customers are enjoying at the moment but costs are still rising
Stephen Robertson

John Lewis began its clearance sale online at 6pm on Christmas Eve and went on to record its busiest ever internet sales.

It said the final four shopping days in the run-up to Christmas had seen a 2.5% increase in sales compared with the same period last year.

And its in-store sale, launched on Saturday, had brought year-on-year rises in till receipts of 20% at its Aberdeen store and 11% in Edinburgh.

Retail analyst Experian FootFall said preliminary figures indicated a 12.5% annual increase in the number of Boxing Day shoppers across the UK.

However, Springboard, which monitors 27 locations in London and across 50 other major UK towns, put the increase at 2.3%

Around 500,000 bargain-hunters flocked to London's West End, while more than 100,000 visited Kent's Bluewater shopping centre - a 10% increase on last year.

A shopper in Oxford Street
Shoppers have been out in droves to make the most of the sales

Up to 180,000 bargain hunters were expected to visit the centre on Saturday - up 6% on last year.

Shopping areas in Manchester, Glasgow and Cardiff reported similar levels of interest, while more than 10,000 people visited Selfridge's London store within its first hour of trading.

Despite a protest by anti-fur campaigners, Saturday saw similar scenes at Harrods and shoppers queued before early-morning launches of the Next and Marks & Spencer sales.

Birmingham's Bullring centre - which contains more than 160 stores - saw queues of around 2,800 shoppers wait for its doors to open.

The centre's general manager, Tim Walley, said more than 190,000 shoppers visited the first day of the sales - up 5% on last year.

He said 230,000 were expected the second day as shoppers hunted for "seasonal discounts".

A spokeswoman for Sheffield's Meadowhall Centre said: "Every bit of available land around the centre has been used for car parking, there's not a space left."

'Triple Whammy'

Mr Robertson predicted that strong performances in the sales would not prevent retailers suffering throughout 2009.

"We've seen... a triple whammy of sales declining, the margins are being crushed by these fabulous promotions that customers are enjoying at the moment but costs are still rising," he said.

Business rates are due to rise by 5% in April, based on October's Retail Prices Index level of inflation.

Mr Robertson said this would threaten the future of many retail jobs next year.

London's West End saw 3.5% more people than Boxing Day last year while the number in Oxford Street alone was up 5.4%.

Jace Tyrrell, of the New West End Company, said it was good news for the many shops which suffered an anxious start to the month but still predicted December's sales would be down.

Savvy shoppers had bought gift vouchers before Christmas in the knowledge they would get more for their money in the sales, he said.

Capital Shopping Centres, which oversees 14 UK shopping centres in the UK including the MetroCentre, near Newcastle, and Lakeside, in Essex, predicted strong trading up to New Year's Eve.

A spokesman said TVs, mobile phones, winter clothes and home wares were among the most popular items.

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