Victoria Square Belfast celebrates busiest weekend ever
Belfast's largest shopping centre has just reported its busiest period in history - as retailers prepare for a Boxing Day sales bonanza.
Despite sales in many stores starting early and a higher number of consumers buying online, today is still expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year.
Victoria Square centre manager Michelle Greeves said that despite changing shopping habits, December 26 was still the biggest sales day.
"There are lots of offers at the minute but they are not as major as the markdowns on December 26, for example something might be 20% off now, but if it is going in the sale on December 26 the markdown will be even bigger," she said.
"There are a lot of products that will not be reduced until December 26."
Ms Greeves revealed that last weekend Victoria Square experienced its highest footfall ever and that December has been an extremely strong month for the centre.
"We have had a fantastic six weeks, we had a very strong year so I can't see why December 26 wouldn't continue that growth so I am expecting a very busy couple of days," she said.
"The Christmas sale and the sale on the 26th is growing year on year, it's getting bigger.
"Last week was our highest footfall ever and this is our seventh Christmas, and the weekend we just had was the highest footfall weekend we have ever had since we opened."
Earlier sales and internet shopping has transformed the retail landscape, according to Ulster University academic Donald McFetridge. He said he expected "only to the die-hards" to be queuing this morning in the cold in order to get their pick of the best bargains available.
This year has seen earlier sales, including the traditional US tradition of Black Friday and Cyber Monday become more popular.
Last Friday's frenzy and 'super shopping Saturday' that took place even before the usual last-minute Christmas Eve panic missions have seen bargain-hunters pacing themselves.
Mr McFetridge said this year's Boxing Day sales actually started in mid-December and most multiple chains started their sales online on Christmas Eve.
However, despite this, he said he expects today to be a bumper day for retailers nonetheless, adding that tomorrow may be even busier again.
Wilfred Mitchell from the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland said that his members are optimistic that the increase in consumer spending will extend beyond Christmas, the Boxing Day sales and contribute to a prosperous 2015.
He also urged shoppers to C choose local retailers.
"Research carried out by the FSB shows that for every £1 spent locally, around 63p of that is channelled back into the local economy. This compares with just 40p if the same pound is spent with larger organisations," he said.
"With this in mind, we would encourage shoppers during today's Boxing Day Sales, and throughout 2015, to support the FSB's Keep Trade Local campaign as a means to ensure the growth and preserving of our local economy."
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed earlier this month it has been a bumper year for retail sales and that year-on-year growth of 6.4% was the best since May 2004.
It said this year has seen a marked improvement in retail sales which climbed at their strongest pace for 11 months in November as the high street was boosted by the Black Friday spending surge. And the most recent quarterly figures released from Danske Bank revealed that consumer confidence in household spending projections for 2015 has reached a six-year high.
What to do when returning that unwanted Christmas present
The store may only offer an exchange or credit note. By law, they don't need to do anything at all if there's nothing wrong with the item other than that you don't want it but many stores will offer gestures of goodwill.
If the item was bought by debit or credit card the store will need to pay any refund back onto that card, they won't be able to give you the cash equivalent.
You will probably be asked for proof of purchase. The best way to do this is to have the receipt, or a gift receipt. However, if the item was bought by card then a bank statement will also act as proof.
If you're at all unsure about a present you've been given, don't throw away the packaging or remove labels because it may look as if you've used the item.
Not all goods can be returned for example CDs, DVDs and games which have had the seal broken or goods that have been personalised, such as engraved with your name or perishable items like a food hamper.
Information supplied by the Consumer Council