£1.2bn spending on 'Panic Saturday'
Shoppers across Britain went looking for late Christmas bargains today as h igh street spending was set to reach £1.2 billion on what was being branded "Panic Saturday".
Some of the country's biggest high street names slashed prices for what was expected to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year - and even more money is set to be spent in coming days.
Thirteen million consumers were set to spend £2.1 million for every minute the shops were open on last-minute gifts and groceries at an average of £92.31 per person, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR).
But Visa Europe said Tuesday will be the UK's busiest high street shopping day ahead of Christmas with £1.3 billion expected to be spent.
As London's famous shopping destination Oxford Street thronged with shoppers, Bluewater in Kent had a busy day too.
Bluewater general manager Robert Goodman said: "It has been an excellent day for Bluewater and our retailers."
The shopping centre was not able at this stage to release footfall figures for the day, but Mr Goodman added: "With extended opening hours up until Christmas Eve, we are expecting the strong performance to continue all the way through the festive season at Bluewater."
The Kent shopping centre said gift cards are finding favour, with consumers snapping up £2m worth of gift cards this festive season - up 13% on last year.
The centre's retailers have seen men's gadgets and women's clothing and handbags topping Christmas wish lists.
Top sellers for women include cashmere accessories, Michael Kors handbags and Chanel perfume, while top sellers for men include a host of gadgets with Nespresso coffee machines, Sonos wireless speakers, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One games consoles proving hot favourites.
Bluewater said seven out of 10 shoppers on Christmas Eve will be panic-buying men.
Liberty London was also unable to provide figures at this stage but a spokeswoman said it has been a "crazy week" for the store, adding: "We're open 'til 10 tonight so still a long way to go."
She also anticipated a busy few days this coming week as we edge closer to Christmas Day.
Elsewhere, David Barford, retail operations director at John Lewis, said that while they were expecting a busy day today, they predict that momentum will continue into next week "now that schools have broken up and people have time off work", adding: "People know they have more time to do their shopping."
Mr Barford said deliveries are also running smoothly and pointed out the types of products that are selling fast.
"As you'd expect at this time of year, beauty is performing particularly well, along accessories like handbags and purses. Childrenswear is also having a strong week," he said.
A spokeswoman for Brent Cross shopping centre in north London, said it too was "very busy" and said she expected it to get even busier tomorrow.
"It's quite a nice atmosphere out there. Everybody seems to be quite happy Christmas shopping. Obviously it's busier than an average Saturday, and I think we'll get a lot of panic buying, probably tomorrow more than today," she said.
Birmingham's Bullring complex said it expected to welcome around 200,000 shoppers during today and a further 110,000 tomorrow.
Michaela Moore, the mall's general manager, said: "It's been a busy December at Bullring, we've welcomed a number of new stores including Ted Baker, Victoria's Secret and Kipling, and we've seen huge visitor numbers.
"With many schools now on their Christmas holidays we're anticipating a busy few days."
Sales at the Meadowhall Shopping Centre in Sheffield were up 4% on last year - the biggest increase since the economic crash in 2008.
Darren Pearce, centre director at Meadowhall, comments: "This last quarter has seen very strong sales figures here at the centre, which is great news for the economy and points to what we hope will be a very successful Christmas."
The mall has been transformed into a winter wonderland this year with a display containing over six miles of crystal garland, 21,000 baubles, and 875,000 individual bulbs.
Bosses expected more than 2.5m visitors in the run-up to Christmas and then on to New Year after the Boxing Day sales open.
Strong sellers this year include faux fur and sequin dresses, Rolex watches and flat caps. Gift cards are also selling better than last year.
Westfield director Myf Ryan said they were expecting today to be the busiest day for shopping so far this year.
"Last year our London centres attracted over 320,000 shoppers on the last Saturday before Christmas and we are again expecting big numbers this year.
"Over three million shoppers each year leave their Christmas shopping to the last 12 days and we have increased our trading hours until 11pm on the Super Saturday and midnight on Monday and Tuesday before Christmas.
"Promotions continue to be a key factor this year following the huge success of Black Friday where we had over 20% growth year-on-year, but luxury brands are also drawing shoppers who are looking for that extra special gift," he said.
Among the retailers offering discounts, Debenhams was selling some Christmas gifts at half-price, Boots was offering a 60% discount of selected fragrances, while Marks & Spencer had knocked 50% off the price of some beauty products.
The CRR has predicted in-store sales will reach £4.74 billion over the five days before Christmas - a 21% increase on last year.
Its report, for Vouchercodes.co.uk, found that delayed online orders, poor weather in some areas and earlier sales were expected to drive 60.9 million shoppers to the high street between today and Christmas Eve - up 14% on last year.
Britain's department stores can expect to double their takings this weekend, with outlets in the north of England set to benefit the most from Panic Saturday, according to data from p ayment processing company Worldpay.
It said the number of card payments processed by department stores in some parts of the UK just prior to Christmas rose by as much as 224% this time last year, with even better figures expected this year.
Worldpay UK managing director Dave Hobday said: "Department stores are magnets for shoppers who find themselves in the last-chance saloon in the final few days before Christmas.
"Many of these 11th-hour shoppers will be breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of heading to the high street on the busiest shopping day of the year and praying for someone to take the pain away."
But those averse to crowds are advised to stay home on Tuesday next week for what is expected to be the busiest single high street shopping day ahead of Christmas.
Visa Europe predicts shoppers will spend £1.3 billion on Tuesday alone on the high street, or £15,278 every second, on its cards.
It estimates 34 million transactions will take place, with numbers peaking in the lunch hour break between 1pm and 2pm.
Despite the rise of Black Friday, which saw high street spending of more than £1 billion this year, Visa predicts that the high street will continue to see its busiest day two days before Christmas.
Overall, the seven-day period before Christmas Day is predicted to see a 7% increase in spending and an 8% increase in transactions on the same period last year.
Visa Europe managing director for the UK and Ireland, Kevin Jenkins, said: "Black Friday kick-started Christmas on the high street and online this year but the busiest bricks and mortar day will likely remain in its traditional slot close to Christmas.
"Retailers' multi-channel approach should cause a surge in footfall from click-and-collect sales too, with the opportunity for further shopping in-store when consumers arrive.
"Across Tuesday December 23 we are likely to see £1.3 billion spent in total. Lunch hour should prove the most popular time for a shopping trip, either for last minute gifts or final ingredients for Christmas dinner."
Retailers at the intu Metrocentre in Gateshead were also busy, with strong sales expected again tomorrow when Newcastle United play local rivals Sunderland in the afternoon.
A spokeswoman said: "The centre has been buzzing with a festive mood all day, and there has been a constant wave of shoppers.
"We are expecting to be equally busy tomorrow.
"Our intu Metrocentre Gift Cards have seen an increase in popularity year on year with record breaking sales this Christmas."
A spokesman for the New West End Company said: "Strong start to last weekend before Christmas. Footfall up 7.1% in first three hours of trading today. On target for £150m spend this weekend across Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street.
"Second busiest weekend of the year after Black Friday weekend. Technology, fashion accessories and food items strongest sales."