Stores face 'austerity Christmas'
There are fresh warnings that retailers face a bleak Christmas despite reports of crowds of shoppers braving the cold to snap up gifts in the last full weekend before Christmas.
Capital Shopping Centres, which owns some of the biggest retail sites in the UK, said footfall had been strong over the weekend as consumers bagged last minute bargains with stores putting on special offers to drum up trade.
Department store chain John Lewis also helped lift the gloom by reporting record sales for the second week in a row.
But the Centre for Economics and Business Research warned that overall retail sales volumes in December were expected to be down 1.7% compared to November and 0.3% lower than a year ago.
Chief executive Douglas McWilliams said: "Retailers are in for an austerity Christmas."
He said the cause of the misery was "a many headed monster", with wages failing to keep pace with inflation, leaving people worse off in real terms, while consumer confidence was "shot to pieces" amid the economic gloom, making shoppers less willing to spend the money they have.
This is despite retailers' sales figures for December being helped by weak comparisons to last year when Arctic weather conditions kept shoppers at home.
The Office for National Statistics recently reported a 0.4% fall in sales volumes in November despite widespread promotions, fuelling fears that retailers were facing a bleak Christmas.
The weekend figures suggest shoppers are still spending but have left it late to buy gifts and are seeking out bargains.
Capital Shopping Centres, which owns Glasgow's Braehead, Gateshead's Metrocentre, Cardiff's St David's, Manchester's Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Thurrock, said its 14 sites had been "bustling" with eight million visitors over the past week.