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Christmas rush begins in earnest with 3.8bn expected to be spent on high street's big day
Retailers are predicting a last-minute spending spree of 3.8billion tomorrow on the British high streetUnprecedented rush could see as much as 5billion spent over coming two days, according to British Retail Consortium
The spree – combined with predicted heavy downpours – is expected to result in gridlock in town centres across the country
19:51 GMT, 21 December 2012
Retailers are predicting the biggest high street shopping day in British history tomorrow with a last-minute spending spree of 3.8billion.
The British Retail Consortium believes as much as 5billion could be spent over the coming two days in an unprecedented rush.
Spending could reach an average of 2.6million a minute during the 24 hours of trading tomorrow, based on estimates by the Visa card company.
Spree: Experts believe as much as 5billion could be spent on the British high street over the next two days in an unprecedented rush
The spree, coupled with the predicted heavy downpours, is expected to bring gridlock to town centres and long queues at tills.
The positive predictions come after retailers around the country enjoyed brisk trade today ahead of the last shopping weekend before Christmas Day.
Jace Tyrrell, director of communications at the New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses in London's West End, said there had been a visible spike in footfall from lunchtime today.
'It was very busy from lunchtime, and heaving from 2pm, he said.
'In particular there were a lot of men out doing last-minute Christmas shopping.'
Mr Tyrrell said retailers in the area were expecting customers to spend up to 100million over the coming weekend.
The number of people in high streets and retail parks has been down this December compared to a year ago, according to BRC surveys.
'In cash terms, we think Saturday will be the biggest shopping day we have ever had'
Richard Dodd, British Retail Consortium
Cash-strapped families have been cutting back and playing a game of brinkmanship with retailers in the hope they will cut prices.
Most national chains have buckled under the pressure by slashing prices by as much as 60 per cent or more.
According to research by accountants PwC, 76 per cent of chains are now advertising sales or money-off promotions in their windows, in comparison with 69 per cent last week.
The average amount of money being reduced is 44 per cent, signalling ‘festive bargains galore’, PwC said.
Sunday trading laws mean that all the big stores will be limited to opening for just six hours tomorrow.
But many will push the rules to breaking point and beyond by opening early for so-called ‘browsing time’.
Adrian Parkinson, spokesman for the Exchange shopping centre in Nottingham, said the weeks leading up to Christmas had been 'mixed', but that there had been a noticeable spike in footfall in the area of late.
'Last weekend was one of the busiest they have seen as a city for some time,' he said.
Crush: The last-minute rush, coupled with heavy downpours predicted over the weekend, is expected to result in traffic gridlock in town centres and long queues at tills
In addition, many supermarkets and some Marks & Spencer outlets will open from midnight on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Though many people have switched to buying gifts online, the focus will now switch to bricks and mortar outlets.
BRC spokesman Richard Dodd said: ‘We do think that this will be the biggest shopping day of the year. In cash terms, we think Saturday will be the biggest shopping day we have ever had, while spending over the weekend is expected to be 4billion to 5billion.’
Many retailers make more than 40 per cent of sales and profits in the run-up to Christmas which makes it a make-or-break period.
Mr Dodd said: ‘Retailers are really banking on this weekend to make up the sales they have not made so far. The slow build-up we have seen is really about people being short of money, reluctant to commit to spending and waiting for bargains.’
The BRC spending predictions are in line with a separate estimate from Visa, which is expecting purchases of 1.26billion with its debit and credit cards today. It accounts for around one third of transactions, which would put the total for the day at 3.78billion.
Dr Steve Perry, of Visa Europe, said: ‘We anticipate that Saturday will be the busiest shopping day of the year.’
Tablet computers, such as the mini iPad, the Google Nexus and Amazon’s Kindle range have topped many Christmas wish lists alongside smartphones. In terms of toys, the revival of The Furby has proved a success with many stores sold out, while Lego Star Wars has been very popular with boys.