LONDON British shoppers were expected to make the most of record discounts in stores on Friday, with retailers looking to make up for dismal trading in the run-up to Christmas as Britain headed toward a recession.
High street chains including Debenhams, House of Fraser, Top Shop, Comet, and Currys began their sales today. Heavyweights John Lewis and Marks & Spencer begin their in-store sales tomorrow, along with Next.
Retailers are relying on a strong performance in the post-Christmas sales to shift surplus stock and several are offering discounts of up to 90 percent.
The sector received a boost, however, when John Lewis, which is seen by some observers as a barometer of UK retail spending, said it had seen improved sales in the final four days before Christmas, reversing a trend of sales declines since September.
The employee-owned group said its department store sales rose by 2.5 percent between December 21 and December 24.
The performance will raise hopes that the traditional last minute rush for gifts and heavy discounting in the run up to Christmas would have boosted consumer spending.
"We had anticipated Christmas would come late to the high street this year but it certainly did arrive," said John Lewis' Managing Director, Andy Street.
Street said John Lewis had benefited from strong sales of speaker docks, iPods, Brain Trainers, fragrance and lingerie.
John Lewis began its online sale immediately following the closure of its stores on Christmas Eve and said it had seen its busiest ever online activity with one order being received every second in the second hour of trading.
Demand had been particularly strong for bedroom and dining furniture and plasma televisions, it said.
Several high profile British retailers, including Zavvi, Whittard, and The Officer's Club have been forced into administration in the lead-up to Christmas, underlining the pressure the sector is facing from the consumer downturn.
On Thursday, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said retail sales figures would reflect a poor Christmas season.
The BRC, which publishes one of the most closely watched retail sales surveys in Britain, said conditions were tough and Britons were struggling.
That was backed up by a survey from market researcher Experian, which showed UK shopper numbers fell 4.3 percent on Christmas Eve compared with the same day last year
Experian said retailers had discounted heavily prior to Christmas in an effort to maintain market share and sales volumes.
"For consumers, this has created an unprecedented 'buyers market' which still for many has not been sufficient to offset concerns about their personal situation," it said.