Sales shoppers meet last-minute panic buyers as UK shops kick-off traditional discounts two days earlier
Forget Boxing Day, the sales are on now. Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Currys/PC World have forgone tradition and will start their sales on Monday.
M&S began its online sale at noon on Christmas Eve, John Lewis kicked off its sale at 5pm and Currys/PC World at 7pm. M&S has even bought the “Christmas Eve sales” search terms on Google in an attempt to attract shoppers.
The dash for bargains will continue on Christmas Day, with online retailers predicting a record 82m visits, a 32% increase on last year, according to Experian. Amazon will begin its sale a day earlier than normal on Christmas Day at 9am.
The last-minute dash to the high street is also expected to be much busier than in previous years. Many consumers were unable to finish all their shopping on 23 December – normally the busiest Christmas shopping day – because of Sunday trading laws limiting shops to just six hours trading.
To get round the ban M&S reopened more than 60 of its stores to allow customers to buy up essentials before Monday’s crush of last-minute panic buyers.
The high street will be at the busiest it has been all year at around lunchtime and early afternoon on Monday, according to experts at Ipsos Retail Performance (IPR), which measures shoppers footfall.
“This December we have seen unusual patterns of shopping activity and buyer behaviour which is now culminating in a mad dash to the shops by many consumers – and very possibly men – who have left some if not all of their gift buying for family and friends until the last minute,” said Peter Luff, president of IPR.
“Over the past week, shoppers were out in their numbers across the UK, but the extra day ahead of Christmas will mean that many consumers will be out shopping for last-minute gifts and other items associated with the holiday season, such as food and drink.”
Luff said high street shopping activity for the past week is up 17% on the previous week, but is still 2.2% down on 2011.
The British Retail Consortium said spending in the run-up to Christmas had been “acceptable but not exceptional”. The retail industry trade association said spending over the final weekend before Christmas is expected to ring in at £5bn.
Waitrose said on Sunday it was its busiest ever Sunday shop, with twice as many customers flocking through the aisles as the previous Sunday. “But [there's] still more shopping to do [on Monday], with many people unable to make it to the supermarket during shorter Sunday trading period – Waitrose expects Monday’s sales to beat those of last Christmas Eve, despite last year’s Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday.”
The supermarket said Waitrose lorries have delivered 1.4m cases of stock each day on the last weekend.
Sainsbury’s reported its busiest-ever hour in terms of customers served from midday to 1pm on Sunday, while 35 branches opened at midnight and will trade until 6pm on Monday.
A million visitors were expected in London’s West End during the three-day period from Saturday to Monday, during which more than £100m was expected to be spent.
The Bluewater shopping centre in Kent was also anticipating a surge in sales on Monday as Saturday’s footfall was up 14% from the previous week.
However, almost 140 firms are facing the threat of closure, according to restructuring firm Begbies Traynor.
Richard Dodd, of the BRC, said there would “undoubtedly” be more high street chains that fail to cling on after Christmas.
The creeping forward of Christmas sales to Christmas Day and before has alarmed Church leaders. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey said: “Christmas Day is a time to be together with the family, to focus on the children and to have a great time together. This day is precious. We are now in danger of the gadgets taking over our lives and we are not in control of them.”
Steve Jenkins, a spokesman for the Church of England, urged people to make time to go to church and have a family lunch on Christmas Day.
“What really matters is that people make time to go to church, to have a family Christmas lunch, to open presents with their families – and maybe spend a bit of time online spending their new Christmas vouchers,” he said.