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Hopes hang on last-minute gifts

Retailers are poised for a late surge in festive sales over the next few days, with analysts predicting the best Christmas since 2007.

Overall retail spend in the UK is tipped to increase by 2.2% year on year to £88.4bn for the three months to December 31, the strongest growth experienced since before the economic downturn. The fashion sector will grow by 3.15% to £15.4bn this quarter, according to analysts Verdict Retail.

Verdict senior analyst Honor Westnedge said retailers are using discounting to drive footfall this Christmas. She added: “Footfall may have fallen back but more people are transferring their spend online.”

Deborah McMinn, group merchandising director of Tudor Williams Holdings, said people are being more selective but spending more. “Footfall is down this Christmas compared with last year, but we’ve been able to convert more into sales and transactions have been higher.”

Shoppers are expected to take advantage of Christmas falling midweek this year, with many holding out for further discounting on the high street.

Financial company Visa has pinpointed Monday December 23 as the busiest shopping day of the year, predicting a £1.2bn spend on its cards in a last-minute dash to buy gifts ahead of Christmas Day.

Simon Poole, managing director of men’s young fashion brand and retailer Luke Roper, said trade had been “up and down” in the run-up to Christmas. However, he added: “We’re expecting Monday and Tuesday next week to be very busy as last-minute shoppers wait for Sales and discounts. But we won’t be breaking rank, we’ll hold fast until Christmas Eve as usual for our Sale.”

Anita Kane, owner of independent lingerie store Sheen Uncovered and womenswear shop Ruby Blue in East Sheen, London, said: “Christmas shopping has got later and later, it’s been the same for the last three years. It’s been slow compared with last year but that’s not necessarily concerning us. It’s partly because of the way Christmas has fallen this year; I think there will be a lot of shopping done last minute.”

Geoff Quinn, chief executive of TM Lewin, agreed customers have done their Christmas shopping later than ever this year. He added: “We assumed the spending spree would kick off in November but it was the first two weeks of December that we saw uplift in sales.

“Momentum is building and looking at the sales figures I’m quietly optimistic that 2103 will be a really good Christmas for us.”

However, some retailers warned that despite a more buoyant economy, consumers are still spending cautiously.

Phil Whittle, head of store operations at Schuh, said the retailer was keeping its expectations “contained” for festive trading.  “Footwear is finding it tough at the moment and matching last year’s figures will be a challenge,” he said.

Andy Hewat, UK and Ireland country manager at lifestyle brand Timberland, said: “A lot of retailers are chasing big comparables from last year and consumers are still being careful with their spend.”

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