'Man dash' to keep tills ringing
The majority of consumers pouring into the shops in the final three days before Christmas are expected to be men, who typically leave their gift-buying until the last minute.
Retailers say that panic-stricken shopping trips by those seeking presents for their wives and girlfriends are likely to account for well over half the sales they are hoping will boost their trading figures before Sunday.
John Lewis said the so-called "man dash" had already seen purchases of lingerie, fragrance and speciality chocolates soar at its department stores, with warm pyjamas also popular despite weather forecasters' predictions of a mild Christmas.
Selfridges said it expected to see a similar trend, with West End retailers pointing to figures from past years suggesting 80% of men leave their Christmas shopping to the 11th hour.
A Selfridges spokeswoman said: "In previous years the majority of customers in these last few days are men and we're expecting to see the same pattern this year. Shopping is quite daunting for them and they leave it to the last minute."
The New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers on London's Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said shops would be rearranging displays to ensure gifts for women were placed prominently.
Visa expects to process more than 33 million transactions worth more than £1.5 billion throughout Friday, which they say is set to be the busiest shopping day of the year. Last-minute shoppers are forecast to spend more than £1 million every minute and nearly £18,000 a second on their Visa cards.
But while December 23 is set to be the biggest shopping day overall, Visa predicts that the busiest shopping hour of the year will be on Christmas Eve between noon and 1pm, in a final flurry of activity before Christmas Day.
But a rash of discounts and sales is likely to hit profit margins as stores fight major price wars to entice cash-strapped shoppers through their doors.
The British Retail Consortium said this meant good bargains were around for those who have money but may not be good news for businesses, adding that people are generally quite determined to treat themselves at Christmas and are likely to tighten their belts in January and February.