Post-Xmas sales break records

Austerity, what austerity? Britain's shop tills have been celebrating bumper sales. Boxing Day shoppers saw a 21% lift in numbers compared to last year; it's estimated that around £4.3bn has been spent in the last two days. So a positive end to a fairly dire year. Unfortunately, several high street names still remain on the critical list, despite a - brief? - post-Xmas lift.

Deal or no deal

Blacks Leisure, HMV, Thorntons, Millets, La Senza... All are in some trouble, though Blacks Leisure is the most serious name on the rack. Some investors have made offers for some parts of the company, though there is little interest in its shares. (It's thought Edinburgh Woollen Mill could make a bit for some of Blacks assets).

But for shoppers, distress mean bargains. UK consumers are anticipated to spend more than £33bn by the third week of January. That's more than £300m up on last year. But this uplift is needed given that high street sales have been considerably down in the last quarter thanks to milder weather, reducing demand for winter clothing, for example.

Holding back

It's also thought that many cash-strapped families have deliberately hung back on Christmas presents, preferring to snap up bargains until the sales begin. A Which? survey claims as many as five million Britons are likely to buy late gifts. "Squeezed budgets mean many people are planning to head to the January sales to buy late Christmas presents," said Which's? exec director Richard Lloyd.

The tragic stabbing of 18-year-old teenager Seydou Diarrassouba on London's Oxford Street on Boxing Day - an attack in broad daylight following a fight at a Foot Locker store - however has cast a pall over the sales season.

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