Discounts tempt Christmas shoppers
Big discounts being offered by retailers tempted Christmas shoppers out in huge numbers in high streets and shopping centres across the UK today.
It meant retailers were enjoying brisk trading on the penultimate Saturday before Christmas Day.
Shoppers were out in force as some of the most famous stores offered general reductions of up to 50% and cut prices by up to 75% on selected gifts.
Debenhams, House of Fraser, Boots, and H&M were all reported to be offering huge discounts in an attempt to attract customers over the festive period.
Tom Nathan, general manager at Brent Cross shopping centre in north London, said people were leaving it later than ever to pick up presents for friends and family.
"Christmas really started from Black Friday which has become a far bigger phenomenon than previous years," he said.
"People are leaving it later and later because retailers have better ranges available.
"The general view customers take is that if I want to buy something, I can have it."
Mr Nathan said it was too early to be "categorical" that the country's improving economy was having an effect on consumer spending in the run up to Christmas.
"It's definitely looking more positive," he added.
Thousands of shoppers descended on the Liverpool ONE complex in the city centre, which has already smashed its own records in the run up to Christmas.
Last weekend it recorded the busiest retail day since it opened in 2008, with sales up 9% on the same Saturday in 2012.
Estate director Chris Bliss said: "This has been a great year for Liverpool ONE and the significant increase in footfall is very promising as we move towards Christmas.
"In December last year we saw more than 3.5 million visitors to Liverpool ONE and we're expecting this year to be just as strong."
Shops and restaurants at the giant Trafford Centre on the outskirts of Manchester have also been reporting increased sales.
General manager Richard Paxton said: " Some of our retailers are offering pre-Christmas deals, in a bid to attract customers to their stores. Savvy shoppers are arriving early on Saturday mornings, or staying later into the evening, for uninterrupted Christmas shopping with the chance of some great bargains."
At Glasgow's Silverburn shopping centre the PS4 games console is proving to be the sell-out Christmas gift but shelves are also being cleared of men's clothing, nightwear and gadgets.
The last week (Saturday to Thursday) has seen a 5% increase in footfall compared with the same period in 2012.
The number of visitors to Aberdeen's Union Square shopping centre rose 9% on last year.
Silverburn manager David Pierotti said: "We're seeing menswear, sleepwear, gadgets and home gifts as the top sellers.
"The PS4 has predictably been one of the year's sell-out gifts. Our Game store got a delivery yesterday morning and they had flown out the door by 11am.
"For kids, our retailers are telling us that Furby, Monopoly Empire, V Tech InnoTab, Chill Factor Squeeze Cup and Dr McStuffins goods are proving popular.
"Jewellers are also very busy - I expect lots of proposals to be happening this Christmas."
Between December 1 and Christmas Day, Union Square said it expects to sell more than 8,200 party dresses and 395 litres of nail polish - enough to paint more than 150 Stagecoach buses.
Bluewater shopping centre in Kent said footfall on Saturday was up 15% on the previous weekend, with more shoppers hitting the stores today compared with the same date last year.
A spokeswoman said: "Factors driving our strong performance are the breadth and quality of our shops and restaurants, promotions available in store, and the wider experience that Bluewater provides for Christmas shopping.
"Consumers are visiting and spending and also making a day of their visit to Bluewater."
At the Parc Tawe retail park in Swansea, a spokesman said: "We have been overflowing with shoppers. It is very hard to put a number on but it is a very busy time."
He added: "Christmas shoppers seem to be out in force and we are expecting it to be very busy over the weekend."
More than 330,000 shoppers are expected to hit the Midlands' most popular shopping centre, the Bullring, this weekend with customers counting down the last shopping days to Christmas.
Last year, shoppers effectively had an extra weekend to buy ahead of December 25, but this year there is no such luxury of time.
Instead, with only one more full weekend to go after this one, the Birmingham-based centre's general manager Tim Walley is expecting one of the busiest weekends of the year at the store, which attracted more than 40 million shoppers throughout 2012.
He said: "We're anticipating a busy penultimate weekend before Christmas with in excess of 210,000 customers expected to visit the centre today.
"With just over a week to go until the big day we're expecting a further 120,000 customers to visit Bullring tomorrow making this one of our busiest weekends of the year."
Regarding consumer demand, Mr Walley said shoppers were making a bee-line for top-selling toys; the Furby Boom and Teksta Puppy in stock at The Entertainer store.
At Leicester's Highcross shopping centre, they are expecting an increase in visitor numbers.
Jo Tallack, general manager, said: "We expect footfall in excess of 130,000 visitors this weekend, which is a 5% increase (from December 2012), year on year."
Strong visitor numbers are also helping to drive sales at John Lewis' flagship store at the Touchwood shopping centre in Solihull, Birmingham, where the emerging gift trends appear to be in the homeware, fashion and beauty departments.
John Lewis Solihull said sales of Christmas crackers, decorations, lights, stockings and cards are all up by 11% at the store, year on year, as customers ensure they are well stocked for a festive Christmas.
Guest bedrooms may be getting some attention with sales of bed linen up 15%.
Meanwhile, in audio it is a similar picture with sales up 25%, with gifts such as the John Lewis own-brand coloured DAB radios proving popular.
Customers are also apparently thinking about how to best record their special Christmas moments, with sales of cameras and accessories up 13%.
Sales of beauty products are also up 8%, while handbags are proving their enduring popularity with sales volumes up 12%.
Ben Service, the store's operations manager, said: "Christmas is the time of year when everyone wants fast service, great value and brilliant gifts.
"We pride ourselves on offering all of that, and with extended trading hours and a real passion for doing the right thing for our customers, we believe John Lewis has everything our customers need to give their loved ones a Christmas they'll never forget."
The number of shoppers on London's Oxford Street was on course to increase by 6.2% this weekend compared with last year's volumes, according to retail footfall specialists Springboard.
The New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses, said footfall from December 11-13 rose by 4.2% year-on-year.
Last week saw footfall on Oxford Street rise by 2.7% on the same period last year, it said.
London's West End district takes in the region of £1 billion in sales over the Christmas period, according to the New West End Company.