Christmas shopping: High Street pins hopes on biggest festive bonanza since credit crunch as shoppers spend 2BILLION over the weekend

High Street pins hopes on biggest Christmas bonanza since credit crunch as shoppers spend 2BILLION over the weekend
Almost a quarter of a million head to Bluewater in KentExtra trading weekend coming up has raised hopes of record sales
Retailers offer discounts of up to 50% nine days before ChristmasSavvy shoppers ditching brand loyalty in hunt for bargainsSupermarket price hikes mean an expensive Christmas dinnerNearly 12.75m British men still haven't started their present buyingFirst time December has four retail weekends before Christmas since 2007London's West End saw 200m spent during bumper weekend

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UPDATED:

18:09 GMT, 17 December 2012

Christmas shoppers spent up to 2billion on Saturday and Sunday in a crucial two days for present buying – with the upcoming extra December trading weekend promising record sales.

London's Oxford Street was jam-packed with people while almost a quarter of a million headed to Bluewater in Kent and the Bullring Centre in Birmingham had a million visitors in a week.

Many more bought presents online to avoid the massive crowds, with online retailers reporting yet another year of growth as smartphones and tablets help the trend along.

But cash-strapped Britain remained determined to find a bargain, with the vast majority of High Street shoppers switching brand loyalties to the stores offering the best deals.

Christmas tree

Christmas lights 2

Bedazzled: Oxford Street's famous lights and window displays turn central London into a riot of festive colour

All wrapped up: Shoppers brave the rain in Manchester to get their shopping done with just a week to go

All wrapped up: Shoppers brave the rain in Manchester to get their shopping done with just a week to go

Shoppers fill the pavement near Selfridges department store in Oxford Street

Shoppers stand in Oxford Street

'Tis the season: Thousands of bargain-hunters fill the pavement near Selfridges department store in Oxford Street today, left, with many taking advantage of the pre-Christmas sales

An overwhelming 94 per cent of supermarket shoppers are waiting to see which chain is offering the most tempting promotions before deciding where to do their big Christmas shop, with just six per cent planning to stay loyal to their favourite retailer.

More than a third intend to save cash by dividing their shop across more than one supermarket to redeem the maximum number of store-specific coupons and vouchers.

And a huge 84 per cent are specifically planning to buy products on deal to save money this Christmas – up from 59 per cent a year ago.

'Some people have held off from spending because of being short of money, or unsure what their circumstances will be in terms of jobs,' said British Retail Consortium spokesman Richard Dodds.

Shop 'til you drop: Experts say that stores use Christmas music played at different speeds to influence spending

Shop 'til you drop: Experts say that stores use Christmas music played at different speeds to influence spending

While stocks last: Must-have technology toys and items such as the iPhone 5, pictured, have been doing well from early in the season

While stocks last: Must-have technology toys and items such as the iPhone 5, pictured, have been doing well from early in the season

'Yet must-have technology toys and items have been doing well from early on.

'There will have been at least 4billion of retail spending this weekend, with a third to a half relating to Christmas.

'Our hope and expectation is that this will increase as it gets closer to Christmas.

'We've got a big trading weekend ahead, because Christmas is two days later thanks to a leap year and the fact that the 25th has moved back by a day over the last few years.'

The coming weekend will be the first time December has had four retail weekends before Christmas since 2007, before the credit crunch.

Traders are hoping this will push up sales, with many shoppers relying on those two free days to panic-buy gifts.

Nearly
12.75m British men still haven't started their present buying, with one
in ten saying they would leave it until Christmas Eve.

The
coming weekend will also be vital for the fifth of women who have left
all present shopping until the last week – especially as only 4.2 per
cent of them are willing to leave it as late as Christmas Eve.

Tomorrow is the last day for second-class postage in time for Christmas, with the last day for first-class on Thursday.

The British high street is also set to receive a welcome boost from the booming online retail sector.

Sale signs

Sale sign in Oxford Street

Santa's slashing prices: Nearly 12.75m British
men still haven't started their present buying, with one in ten saying
they would leave it until Christmas Eve

But London's West End is expecting to be one of the biggest winners, with more than 200m spent over the weekend alone.

Jace Tyrrell, of the New West End Company, which represents shops in Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, said tourists were helping to drive the bumper spending spree.

He said: 'In the West End these great sales are from a combination of tourists coming to the UK to shop and shoppers coming from all over the UK to visit London to get their Christmas presents.

'We have some of the best Christmas lights and theatres in the world here and people come down to see a play and hit the shops, and tourists tend to have a higher spend.'

The popularity of the 'Click and Collect' service has seen the two previously rival sectors join forces to push up festive profits.

The service allows shoppers to purchase goods from a shop's website, often at reduced prices, and collect their presents from their nearest outlet, or from other local convenience shops.

In a market dominated by special offers, two-thirds of high street shops are already offering discounts in the run-up to Christmas, averaging at least a third off, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive and communications director of the British Independent Retailers Association, has praised Click and Collect as 'the perfect answer to the high street'.

Shop till you drop: Festive shoppers were looking for a last minute Christmas bargain today at Primark in London's Oxford Street

Shop till you drop: Festive shoppers were looking for a last minute Christmas bargain today at Primark in London's Oxford Street

He said: 'Everyone wants a product when they buy it, not in two days' time. It gets the customer into the shop, and the thing we've seen under pressure through the whole of this year is footfall. It's odd that it has taken this long to take off; in many ways it is a Click and Collect Christmas.

'Internet shopping is a sales channel, but it's not a fulfilment channel. The shop is both things; sales and fulfilment.

'Bringing these two things together in Click and Collect makes what's available in the shop available online 24/7, and promises footfall for the future for the high street.'

John Lewis allows customers to collect purchases from either John Lewis or Waitrose outlets, and has staggered its Christmas sale to begin online at 5pm on Christmas Eve, crossing over into shops on December 27.

A spokeswoman for John Lewis said: 'The earlier start for online is something we've been doing for a number of years in response to customer demand.'

Last week, the retailer saw sales soar by a record 11.1 per cent on the same week last year, reaching a total of 147.8million.

ONLINE TRENDS ON CHRISTMAS DAY

Amazon reports an increase of 263 per cent in online shopping on December 25 over the past five years.

But when and what are people buying The retailer breaks down the spending as follows:

11am: Last minute gifts.

11am: Peak time for purchases of Gift Cards, one of Amazon.co.uk’s biggest sellers on Christmas Day.

Midday: Spending on Christmas Gift Cards – with high volumes of Kindle Books and MP3s being purchased.

8.15pm: Sofa surfing (using new gadgets).

Shopping centres have also enjoyed increased footfall over the past few weeks as time-pressed customers take advantage of the close proximity of many different shops under one roof.

Bluewater shopping centre in Kent credited extended opening hours with helping to drive footfall up by six per cent on the same weekend last year, with more than 240,000 shoppers visiting the centre.

Bluewater is open from 9am until 11pm six days a week from December 10 to 22.

More than one million customers visited Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre last week, with the One Direction 2013 calendar, Primark Christmas jumpers and The 2012 London Olympic Games DVD among the most popular purchases.

The value of internet retail sales in 2011 was 27 billion, accounting for around 9 per cent of total retail sales, according to the British Retail Consortium.

A survey of 1,000 shoppers by coupon specialist Valassis highlighted just how important promotions have become to bargain-hunting shoppers.

Conlumino retail analyst Neil Saunder told trade magazine The Grocer that he was not surprised by the findings.

'Out of all the retail sectors, grocery has always suffered from relatively low levels of loyalty,' he said.

'Even so, these numbers demonstrate the impact of higher food prices — that the consumer is more prepared to shop around, especially when they are spending a lot of money like they do at Christmas.

'This puts pressure on retailers to 'deliver the goods' on pricing and promotions which is good news for shoppers – but not for retail margins and profits.'

Valassis managing director Charles D'Oyly said supermarkets should focus on offering bargains, saying: 'Paying the lowest prices trumps loyalty when it comes to Christmas shopping. Those who offer the best deals win.'

Amazon reports that purchases on December 25 have more than tripled over the past five years – and it expects this year to be its busiest Christmas Day to date.

This comes in part because of the growth in home broadband, tablets and smartphones – which is likely to see an additional boost after families unwrap their gifts.

Amazon plans to start Boxing Day Deals on December 25 due to customer demand.

Xavier Garambois, Vice President of EU Retail at Amazon, said: 'The digital revolution has certainly played a part in this growth and Christmas Day is our biggest day of the year for MP3 and Kindle Book downloads as many people are buying content from new devices that they have just received.

'It’s not just digital items though, we are seeing purchases of everything from baby products to women’s clothing rapidly growing on Christmas Day. Many customers are shopping on Christmas Day in a way that has previously only been seen in the retail industry on Boxing Day.'

Bargain hunters: Debenhams was promising 10% off beauty and fragrance products in a bid to entice festive shoppers

Bargain hunters: Debenhams was promising 10% off beauty and fragrance products in a bid to entice festive shoppers

Families seeking to slash their food bill for the season have also been hit by price hikes on hundreds of supermarket own-label budget food products, a new report showed yesterday.

According to analysts BrandView.co.uk, 153 of Tesco's 353 Everyday Value products available on 11 December 2012 cost more than their equivalent in 2011.

At Sainsbury's, 137 of the 217 Basics lines were more expensive – with an eight-pack of sausage rolls going up from 1 to 1.49.

But there might be one tactic retailers could try to ensure shoppers spend more over the festive period.

WHEN TO PLACE YOUR ORDER

The biggest pitfall of ordering gifts online is worrying whether they will arrive in time.

Here are the deadline dates for ensuring you get your shopping by December 25.

Monday 17 December: Argos

Tuesday 18: Greenman Gaming; Kurt Geiger; Leekes; Logitech; Matalan; Apricot; Waterstones

Wednesday 19: BHS; Charles Tyrwhitt T-shirts; Amazon

Thursday 20: Amazon; BBC Shop; Debenhams; Ernest Jones; Firebox; H. Samuel
QVC; USC

Friday 21: Banana Republic; Bank (order before 6pm); Crucial; Gap; Hotel Chocolat; JD Sports; Rosetta Stone; Sainsbury's; Scotts (order before 6pm); Size (order before 6pm); Staples; George (Asda)

Saturday 22: House of Fraser (before 5pm for Buy and Collect)

Sunday 23: Amazon (express delivery and Amazon Prime Customers) order before 11am

Monday 24: Amazon (for customers in a number of major UK cities for Evening Delivery. Visit delivery rates and policies on the home page at amazon.co.uk for eligible postcodes)

Experts say the irritating replays of traditional songs such as All I Want For Christmas and Jingle Bells in shops make people more careless with their money.

Background music is used by marketers to impose cultures – such as the commercialisation of Christmas – on to consumers and influence their behaviour, academics revealed.

Dr Alan Bradshaw of Royal Holloway, University of London, said: 'Festive jingles are force-fed to Christmas shoppers in a bid to change their mood, influence their sense of time and what sort of products they buy. This is an attempt to manipulate your shopping habits in a way that you might barely be aware of.

'Often we are told that we have the freedom to choose where we want to shop, but during Christmas the use of music in this way is so ubiquitous that our freedom to choose disappears.'

A common trick is to take a popular current song and record an instrumental version which can be slowed down or sped up at different times of the day to influence behaviour in different ways, Dr Bradshaw said.

Slowing down the tempo of music in shops can trick customers into thinking less time has passed, and therefore spend more time perusing the shelves.

The festive season brought a welcome boost for retailers this weekend.

Jace Tyrrell, of the New West End Company, which represents 600 firms, said it had been busy at stores such as Topshop, Hamleys and House of Fraser.

She added: ‘There are discounts on selected items of up to 50 per cent, including 40 per cent at House of Fraser, and 30 per cent at Debenhams.

‘We've had a strong performance in the
West End recently. November footfall was up more than five per cent on
the previous November.

‘In a way we are in a bit of a bubble
here, with the tourists coming here, so there is a different feel in
central London from the rest of the UK.’

Sale away: Shoppers could be forgiven for thinking the New Year had come early with the number of discounts on offer at London's main shopping hub

Sale away: Shoppers could be forgiven for thinking the New Year had come early with the number of discounts on offer at London's main shopping hub

Shoppers in Oxford Street would have been forgiven for thinking the New Year had come early with the number of stores offering discounts.

Bargain-seekers usually
have to wait until after Christmas for businesses to start slashing
prices. But those who braved
the heaving crowds were rewarded.

Shoppers flocked to outlets such as Primark and Gap, which cut prices by half on selected items.

Braehead shopping centre, in Glasgow, was in ‘full swing’, according to general manager Peter Beagley.

Selected shops will be open until midnight from today to Christmas Eve to try to catch as many shoppers as possible.

David Wilkinson, head of marketing for Bluewater in Kent, said: ‘We are very busy, people are doing a lot of shopping and the restaurants are buzzing.'

Staff at Toys R Us said they experienced a particularly busy weekend.

Richard Tarbutt, assistant manager of the outlet's store in Cardiff, said new versions of old favourites were proving particularly popular.

‘There has been a strong demand for
Furbys this year,’ he added. ‘The original ones were released some 12
years ago, but the re-released version has been a big hit.

‘Lego
has also been highly sought after. The whole range has always been a
Christmas favourite, but the new Lego Friends – which is targeted more
at girls – has sold well too.’

Shops and restaurants at the Trafford
Centre in Greater Manchester have been reporting increased sales levels
as they enter the final run-up to Christmas.

SAVVY SHOPPING: THE BEST BARGAIN BUYS THIS CHRISTMAS

Soap & Glory The Best Of All: The ultimate head-to-toe indulgence kit, stuffed-full of body, skincare and cosmetics bestsellers. Was 60, now 27.50.

Yves Saint Laurent Touche clat and Luxurious Mascara 5-Piece Gift Set: Must-haves for an intense and radiant look in the wink of an eye. Worth more than 70, reduced from 48 to 40.80. Free delivery.

Sanctuary Spa Favourites: Sumptuous pampering gift box is full of lavish skin treats, each scented with the classic Sanctuary fragrance. 16.00.

Cowshed Relaxing Knackered Cow Trio Gift Set: Exclusive trio gift to help relax and unwind during this festive season, exclusive to House of Fraser. Was 24, now 18.