Prices slashed as Northern Ireland stores aim for rush to eclipse Black Friday
Huge crowds are due to hit high streets across Northern Ireland today in a last-minute Christmas shopping frenzy.
Indeed, industry analysts believe that this will be the busiest shopping day of the year - knocking Black Friday off the number one slot, especially in terms of shopper visits.
Retailers - who have been enjoying the biggest Christmas boom since the recession began - are expecting tills to be ringing from early morning, while consumers are being advised to get out as soon as possible to avoid long queues and parking mayhem.
Retail expert Donald McFetridge said shops had started slashing prices to attract people looking to get some 11th hour bargains on food, gifts, party wear and decorations.
"Today will most definitely be the busiest day of the shopping season to date," he said.
"Shoppers should try to get out early to avoid the mad rush and parking bedlam which usually ensues on these occasions - that is, unless they're the type of shoppers who relish the hustle and bustle of the festive season.
"The rush will be exacerbated by the fact that online is no longer a purchasing option if gifts are required for presentation on Christmas Day."
Mr McFetridge said that some people will be prepared to tackle the crowds even if they are ready for Christmas because they could be on the hunt for surprise bargains and pre-sales promotions.
He added: "In the final few trading days before Christmas, thousands of retailers across the province will continue to desperately slash prices in a bid to attract shoppers through their doors." Research suggests one in four shoppers has held off making Christmas purchases until the last minute this week in the hope of getting a bargain.
Many chains started sales and promotions early this year - around Black Friday, which fell on November 25 - and the average reductions are bigger than they have been for years.
Price cuts of 50% on the High Street are commonplace and some companies are promoting savings of 60%-plus.
Post-Brexit, business is booming for traders in Belfast, Newry, Enniskillen, Armagh, Strabane and Londonderry and cross-border shopping is at a six-year high.
Some Northern Ireland retailers have already been reporting an annual sales increase of more than 60% on this time last year, a trend that is expected to continue well into the new year.
And, today, retailers in shopping centres in border towns are braced for an influx of southern shoppers taking full advantage of the favourable exchange rate to make one last scramble for discounted goods before Christmas.
Cathal Austin, who manages The Quays in Newry, said he believes local consumers will also be out in force as the final countdown gets under way in earnest.
"The mood is good; euro-trade is up by 60% and traders here are expecting another strong day of sales," he said.
The Black Friday weekend saw shopper numbers surging by almost 20% at one of Belfast's leading shopping centres where retailers offered discounts of up to 70%.
Michelle Greeves, centre manager at Belfast's Victoria Square, said footfall was up significantly on last year. "Black Friday weekend was a fabulous start to the Christmas shopping period as footfall in Victoria Square over the three days was 19% higher than in 2015," she said.
Top 10 bargains
1. M&S, Mandarin, cinnamon and Clove Ultimate Gift Set. Was £60. Now £30.
2. Gap, Man's Raglan fleece sweatshirt. Was £34.95. Now £19.99.
3. Debenhams, Krups, Nespresso 'U' coffee machine. Was £130. Now £70.
4. Boots - Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau de Toilette, 50ml. Was £54. Now £35.
5. Currys/PC World, Dyson V6 Absolute Cordless Vacuum Cleaner. Was £449.99. Now £295.99.
6. House of Fraser, Dickins & Jones Bernie The Dog printed cushion. Was £30. Now £12.
7. River Island bodycon dress. Was £45. Now £20.
8. Top Shop Krazy pointed boot. Was £36. Now £18.
9. Toys R US, Universe of Imagination All In One Train Table. Was £149.99. Now £74.99.
10. Mothercare - Rosebud Town House. Was £40. Now £20.