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West End retailers to cash in at Christmas despite economic fears

Retailers in London’s West End are pinning their hopes on Christmas trading to counteract the tough trading environment, despite lingering concerns over safety and political uncertainty.

Sales in the six weeks leading up to Christmas are expected to rise by 1.5% year on year to £2.61bn, according to the New West End Company’s annual Christmas Tracker report.

It is estimated that West End retailers have suffered an 80% hike in business rates this year, adding £125m in costs across the district. Despite this, retailers are predicted to create 4,700 seasonal jobs on the back of increased visitor demand.

Average takings are expected to amount to £51.1m per day, equalling an hourly spend of £5.1m.

Eleanor Dalley, general manager at House of Fraser on Oxford Street, is confident that the Christmas lights switch-on and other planned activities will draw visitors in.

She said that Black Friday (24 November) and 23 December will play significant roles, and confirmed the store will extend its opening hours on both evenings. The latter will see the store operate between 8am and 11pm.

“It [23 December] will be a huge day given that Christmas Eve is on a Sunday and we have only limited trading hours that day. It will be big for all retailers,” said Dalley.

Susan Reid, regional retail director at Debenhams, noted that shoppers “remain cautious in large places given the recent terror attacks”, with footfall dipping “in the aftermath of an event”, but said that if nothing untoward happens shoppers will love the festive spirit of the West End and be out in force”.

She said: “It is still a challenging and uncertain retail environment but people want to deliver for their friends and families at Christmas.”

A boost in tourist spending is expected to drive sales, as people continue to take advantage of the weak pound.

Sales to Chinese tourists in the West End have risen by 59% between July and August this year, with shoppers from India, Russia and the US also flocking to stores in the area, according to research from tax-free shopping company Global Blue.

Early weather forecasts of above-average temperatures in the two weeks to 25 December will also encourage footfall at Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, New West End Company said.

However, the tracker predicted that overall footfall in the West End in the weeks leading to Christmas will slide by 3.1% year on year as consumers become more targeted in their visits and lean towards online shopping.

However, it stressed these trends may not necessarily affect sales, as retailers are investing more in personalised and exclusive products in an effort to tempt shoppers into stores.

Karen Lord, head of branch at John Lewis’s Oxford Street store, said: “This Christmas is difficult to predict as we have seen some caution amongst domestic shoppers in the first half of the year, mainly around big-ticket items such as carpets or fitted kitchens.

“That could continue over the next few weeks but in addition we also expect to see the ‘lipstick effect’ take hold where people treat themselves and pull out all the stops for Christmas. We have seen some strong sales over the last month or so.”

New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrell said: “There are serious challenges ahead for the West End […] and we need support from all political parties and levels of government to ensure the area will continue to thrive into the future.

“After a difficult year and ongoing uncertainty about Britain’s relationship with the European Union, we’re cheered to see such a healthy forecast for the crucial Christmas trading period.”

The first seven months of 2017 saw 65 West End store launches, up from 52 for the whole of the previous year. These include sportswear brand Lululemon, Polish fast fashion label Reserved and H&M-owned brands Arket and Weekday.

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