Belfast Telegraph

Shopping centres expecting a frenzy in the run-up to Christmas

By John Mulgrew

One of Belfast's top shopping centres has said it is expecting the last few days before Christmas to be the busiest yet.

And it seems shoppers could be leaving it later to pick up their gifts this year.

That is in light of the latest footfall figures, which showed shopper numbers last month were at their lowest level in two years, with Christmas just two weeks away.

One of city's top retail spots, Victoria Square - which includes stores such as House of Fraser - said it is expecting the beginning of next week to be its busiest period yet.

Michelle Greeves, centre manager, added: "Trade in the build-up to Christmas is going just as we'd expect for this time of year and as we'd anticipate".

She added that the next few days and the beginning of next week are set to be busier still: "Like us, many retailers have started their extended Christmas opening hours and Victoria Square is open until 10pm on every week night, which means there's usually less pressure on shoppers to restrict their purchasing to the weekends,"

CastleCourt, which houses a raft of big stores including Debenhams, said business had so far been "solid".

The centre said milder weather could impact on some retailers and general shopping habits.

But it added it expected this weekend, including so-called Panic Saturday, to be another busy period.

"There's been a very solid and steady build-up of shoppers coming through our doors since late November, and last weekend was one of our busiest this year," a spokesman said.

"We are expecting that the milder weather we have been experiencing this winter will impact on some retailers and on shopping habits generally.

"However, we still expect that this coming weekend and the few days in the run-up to Christmas will be very busy."

Independent retailers are also remaining optimistic, but some have seen sales fall this year.

And it seems Christmas shoppers are set to enjoy a fifth year of record discounting, with retailers expected to offer up their best bargains this Saturday, analysts predicted.

Discounts currently average 41.8% and will increase to 45% by the weekend - the deepest since 2008 - after the mild autumn and unexpectedly low Black Friday sales on the high street left retailers facing an "uphill battle" to shift stock, Deloitte said.

The figures will be good news for the 12.6 million people across the UK who are expected to hit the high street on Panic Saturday - although the figure is slightly down on last year.

But while spending on Saturday is expected to be slightly lower - £1.1bn in stores compared with £1.2bn last year - the day is predicted to kick off a £6bn six-day spending spree in the run-up to Christmas, 23% more than the same period last year when Christmas Day fell on a Thursday.

Belfast Telegraph