Stores poised for last-minute rush

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Retailers are hoping for a last-minute rush of Christmas shoppers

Retailers are hoping for a last-minute rush, with predictions that today could be the busiest shopping day of the year.

With many forced to delay shopping trips due to snow – and with a VAT hike looming – payment card group Visa Europe expects the day to be a record breaker. Some stores have announced extended opening hours for those who have missed Christmas deadlines for online shopping.

Department store John Lewis’s director of selling operations David Barford said: “This week is always incredibly busy for us but there will also be an element of pent-up demand where shoppers weren’t able to get to branches because of the weather. It’s going to be a very busy week, weather permitting. Customers get to a point where they have to shop.”

Anne Pitcher, Selfridges buying and merchandising director, said: “Despite the bad weather, customers have been shopping in Selfridges in high numbers and we fully expect the last couple of days before Christmas to be busier than ever.”

The retailer said it expected more than 250,000 customers to start their festive shopping on Christmas Eve, the majority of them men.

Supermarkets are also expecting their busiest day ahead of Christmas, and Tesco spokesman Trevor Datson said: “Stores and staff are fully prepared and stocked up ready for our busiest day of the year. We’re expecting them to be twice as busy as a normal Saturday. To help cope with the extra demand, thousands of Tesco head office staff have left their desks to help stack shelves, pack customers’ bags and serve at the tills.”

Morrisons said it expected 5.15pm to be its busiest time of the year, and spokesman Richard Hodgson said: “After the unprecedented cold weather the UK has had, we know that shoppers won’t leave the food shop until Christmas Eve.”

Selfridges announced it was launching its earliest ever Christmas sale, beginning online on December 25. DIY chain B&Q launched its “January sale” on December 17, promising up to 75% off goods.

Electrical retailer Comet has predicted up to five million people will visit its website and mobile site between Christmas Eve and January 3 ahead of the rise in VAT on January 4 – the highest number the store has seen during the festive period. It expected a surge of 350,000 bargain hunters going online on Christmas Day, with the majority between 7pm and 8pm, and up to 700,000 visitors on Boxing Day.

Comet spokesman Bob Darke said: “In the run-up to Christmas we’ve seen a rise in sales of iPads, Kinect for Xbox 360 and 3D TVs, and we expect these to continue to be some of our most popular products. With the VAT increase hitting in January 2011, many customers will use the Christmas period to take advantage of deals and snap up some key purchases for the home.”

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