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'Bumper start' to Christmas trading

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Christmas shoppers pack London's Regents Street

Retailers reported a bumper start to the Christmas trading season as shoppers defied the ice-cold weather and hit the high street.

Customers started the Christmas season with zeal, with big names reporting a 10% hike on last year’s sales, and took advantage of promotional offers.

Big names including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Currys, Argos and House of Fraser slashed prices by up to 50% on Saturday in a bid to draw in customers.

Official figures recently revealed retail sales were picking up momentum ahead of Christmas, but economists expect consumers are also looking to make purchases before the January VAT increase from 17.5% to 20%.

Department store group John Lewis said shoppers throughout the country, including the north and Scotland, were not deterred by plummeting temperatures and saw sales last week total £99.9 million, up 13% on the previous week and 8.7% on last year.

The group said toys and digital items were the strongest sellers, with scooters, Butterscotch the animatronic pony, iPods and cameras among the most popular products. Nat Wakely, director of selling operations for John Lewis, said: “This week has focused not only on small children but those bigger kids too for whom gadgets and electronics are looking like top gifts.”

Waitrose, which is owned by the John Lewis Partnership, saw sales of £103 million in the week ending on Saturday, an 11% increase on the same week last year.

Sales in London’s West End exceeded £200 million, according to the New West End Company, which represents retailers on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, when cars were banned from the city’s main shopping streets for six hours on Saturday.

The spending spree is expected to continue with so-called “Mega Monday” tipped to be the busiest day of the year for online shopping. Consumers are expected to spend £265 million online on credit and debit cards following Friday’s end-of-month payday, according to credit and debit card company Visa.

Accountancy firm Deloitte predicted 15% growth in online retail sales this Christmas, taking online retail spend to £8 billion in December, or 23% of total retail sales.

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