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Last minute presents to buy? You need to get set for Panic Saturday

By Rebecca Black

Brace yourselves for what has been dubbed Panic Saturday as stores prepare for the final charge of gift hunters.

High street spending is set to reach £1.2bn across the UK today as festive shoppers face their last chance to find gifts to put under the tree next week.

Following on from yesterday's Last Friday Frenzy, the usual rush during the last few days before Christmas has been heightened by shops slashing prices.

Despite recent sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, stores are already slashing prices to capitalise on last month's bumper trading when the growth in retail sales hit a 10-year high, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Online spending has also soared and across the UK this year is expected to burst through the £100bn barrier for the first time ever.

Thursday saw the busiest day for the Royal Mail locally.

A spokeswoman said almost two million items were sorted in the Belfast office on Thursday. Michael Kennedy, operations director for the Royal Mail in Northern Ireland, said on Thursday his staff dealt with 1.6 million letters and 200,000 parcels - more than double what they would deal with on a normal day.

He said due to the Cyber Monday sales online, its busiest period had been earlier than usual this year.

It took on an extra 300 casual staff to cope with the rush, put an extra 120 vehicles on the road, an extra 25 sailings and an extra five flights for what he described as a "significant increase" on last year.

"One of the things here in Northern Ireland, Royal Mail don't surcharge internet shoppers, most other carriers do," he said.

"So we find in Northern Ireland our growth is higher than the rest of the UK.

"One price goes anywhere in the UK.

"I noticed when sorting parcels myself the names of a lot of small towns in Northern Ireland, if they weren't using the postal system they would need to be located in the middle of GB, but it doesn't matter whether they are in England or Northern Ireland, there is no additional charge to deliver to here with Royal Mail."

Economist Sam Alderson, of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the falling cost of essential items such as fuel and food has "brightened the economic environment" and freed up more income for families to enjoy over the holiday season.

The Office of National Statistics said that average store prices fell by 2% in November compared with November 2013 - the largest fall since August 2002.

While the superstores have been doing well, there is anecdotal evidence that our local independent shops have been enjoying a larger bite of the cherry.

Glyn Roberts from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said it looked set to be the best Christmas in years.

"In 2014 consumer confidence has improved, people are spending a good deal more and there is increasing evidence that people are now supporting independents rather than the big multiples," he said.

"Certainly in grocery retail, the days of a big weekly shop are now in major decline and people are doing multiple shopping trips. Our members have done very well out of that.

"Fingers-crossed, this should be one of the best Christmases we have had for some time."

He added: "There is no doubt footfall is up, what really matters is money-in-the-till sales.

"We will get a better picture in the next few weeks when those figures emerge."

Fancy a Frozen Onesie? Our pick of best bargains

Argos

Chad Valley Super Loop Speedway Track Playset: was £79.99, now £24.00

Million Pound Drop board game: was £24.99, now £9.99

House of Frazer

Razor Scooters Wild Style Kick Scooter: was £59.99, now £34.99

Disney Princesses 52 Piece Art Case: was £10, now £5

Debenhams

Black patent 'Tropp' clutch bag: was £32, now £16

Ladies white leather strap watch with Swarovski elements: was £80, now £40

Blue 'Relentless 3' running trainers: was £55, now £27

Elite Premier non stick hard anodised 4 piece pan set: was £260, now £130

Currys/PC World

Sony Bravia KD49X8505BBU Smart 3D 4k Ultra HD 49in LED TV: was £1,399, now £999

Panasonic Viera TX-40AS640B Smart 3D 40in LED TV: was £699, now £399

Bosch Tassimo Suny TAS3202GB Hot Drinks Machine: was £119, now £49

Acer E5-571 15.6" Laptop - Purple: was £499.99, now £329

M&S

Oudinot Brut NV Champagne - Case of 6: was £150, now £100

Luxurious Christmas Hamper, left: was £500, now £400

Ultimate Christmas Hamper: was £999, now £799

Tesco

Disney Frozen Anna and Elsa Onesie: was £9, now £4.50

DC Comics Superman Fleece Onesie: was £12, now £7

F&F Leather Buckle Detail Riding Boots: was £60, now £40

Compiled by Rebecca Black

Belfast Telegraph

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