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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sales break all records: £4.3billion spent over the last two days, but analysts say at least three High Street chains could go to the wall in weeks

By Emily Andrews and Paul Bentley

(Left to right) Sophie Maynara, Emma and Finn Halton out shopping in Birmingham City Centre today

Shoppers abandoned austerity with a record £4.3billion spending spree at the sales.

Some £2.5billion passed through the tills yesterday on top of an estimated £1.8billion on Boxing Day.

Retail analysts believe the combined final total will be the highest ever spend for December 26 and December 27.

Fears persist however that the end-of-year rush will not be enough to save some big names on the high street which are in imminent danger of collapse.

Among the most vulnerable are lingerie chain La Senza, Blacks Leisure and Millets.

Stores across the country saw scenes reminiscent of those before the economic downturn as thousands of people flocked to the sales.

They were taking an average of at least £4.6million a minute, or £77,000 a second.

Experts said the predicted £10billion plus spend for the whole of this week will be 2011's most lucrative for retailers, beating the pre-Christmas rush. Consumers are expected to have spent at least £22.8billion by the third week of January – £338million more than in the equivalent post-Christmas period last year.

Shoppers who avoided the crowds and transport disruption of Boxing day sales yesterday are expected to spend more than £2.5billion today, according to retail analysts. Here crowds flocked to the Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham

Shoppers crowd the doorway of Harrods department store as it opens for post-Christmas sales in London

Anita Manan, an analyst at Experian, said: 'It's good to see so many people visiting stores and the milder weather has helped. With retailers' quarterly rent due, the difficulty is that they are selling a lot of stock at very low prices.

'What remains to be seen is if this quarter's takings are enough to see them through this difficult period to the next quarter.'

The peak weeks of Christmas trading are crucial to retailers as this period accounts for nearly one-fifth of the UK retail industry's annual sales, making stores fight harder than ever to tempt shoppers through their doors.

The beleaguered retail sector has suffered from poor footfall figures during the course of the year. High street takings were down by around £200million a week in November versus October.

Queues formed outside Harrods all day as eager shopper waited to get in

Bargain-hunting: Shoppers at the Harrods winter sale search for big discounts

The Harrods sale was opened this morning by Florence Welch Of Florence And The Machine, who arrived on a green London bus

Many retail managers have complained once-thriving shopping centres have come to resemble ghost towns.

Christmas sales were brought forward in many stores with discounts increasing on a daily basis. Many stores are now offering 70 per cent or more off items.

Tom Nathan, manager of London's Brent Cross shopping centre, said Boxing Day had been the busiest ever – following on from a record breaking December 23 and Christmas Eve.

He said: 'We have broken three records in three days in terms of numbers, with each of the last three days being the biggest ever for the time of year.'

Retail analysts Experian said the number of shoppers on Boxing Day was 21.5 per cent higher than a year ago.

Crowds flocked to Oxford Street despite yesterday's stabbing. Police say they are holding 11 people on suspicion of murder

Industry insiders, however, say that despite the encouraging trading, some big-name players may not make it through the next few weeks, with many now due to pay their rent bills for the next quarter.

La Senza, which has 146 stores and 18 concessions in the UK, has announced it plans to enter administration in coming days.

And Blacks Leisure, which owns 98 Blacks outlets and 208 Millets stores, has fuelled speculation that it would go into administration in a move that would allow rivals to cherry-pick its best assets.

Last week chocolate-maker Thorntons said annual profits would miss estimates, while music chain HMV said weak sales may cast 'significant doubt' on its future.

Handbags were flying off the shelves at Harrods department store during the first its day of post-Christmas sale

People rummaged through handbags at Harrods today as thousands descended on the Knightsbridge department store

Up to 12million shoppers – one in four of the population aged over ten – were thought to have crammed into high streets and malls yesterday.

John Lewis, Harrods and Ikea all joined the retail frenzy, launching in-store sales on top of those already started online.

High shopper numbers and busy traffic were reported at centres across Britain, including Bluewater in Kent, the Trafford Centre in Manchester and the MetroCentre in Gateshead.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research, said: 'I don't think we're stretching it to say the 26th and 27th of December combined have been the best ever, certainly if we include online sales. I'd have thought it could be a record two-day takings.

'People have definitely been waiting for the sales. Many decided to play a waiting game with retailers in anticipation of deep sales cuts. Because of the way Christmas has fallen and the fact that many people have taken the whole week off that has prompted a huge boost in spending.'

Shoppers picked through the bargains at shopping centres across the country today as stores try to make the most of the post-Christmas boom in Brent Cross, north London

At Brent Cross, in north London, more than 1,000 people were queuing at 3.30am for the Next sale's 4am start

Eager shoppers queue outside Selfridges department store on Oxford Street for the Boxing Day sales

People queuing at Prada shop on the Boxing Day sales at Selfridges in Birmingham



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