30% off at Marks & Spencer tomorrow?

Marks and Spencer stock

Rumours are spreading that Marks and Spencer is set to stage a one-day sale tomorrow, offering 30% off a huge range of goods. It won't be the only chain to launch a pre-Christmas sale this week, but it will be the first time since 2008 that M&S has joined the fray.

So why is it doing it, and where else can you catch the sales?
The rumours were published in the Daily Mail, which suggests it will be a one-day sale branded a 'Magic and Sparkle Spectacular'.

Sales frenzy

There have already been one-day flash sales from House of Fraser and Debenhams - which has been running pre-Christmas one day sales for the best part of a decade.

There are also pre-Christmas sales across the board. A study from PwC fund that 72% of stores are running some sort of sale or promotion. Retail Week reported that Gap extended its cuts to 60%, while Debenhams is offering 50% off and House of Fraser up to 75%.

French Connection, River Island, Oasis, Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Evans, New Look, H&M and Aldo have also joined the sales frenzy.

The fact that M&S is taking this step is an indication of how far and deep the discounts have been this year. Figures from PwC found that discounts on the high street hit 46% this week - compared to 42% last week and 44% in the same week last year.

Worrying for retailers

This discounting is itself a sign of how tough times are on the high street. Typically stores expect to make around a third of all sales at this time of year, and the figures do not look promising. A number of investment analysts have predicted that sales are going to disappoint at some of the major names, and we have seen the share prices start to falter.

Retail sales were lower in October and November, and Springboard - which monitors how busy the shops are - said that the second week of December there were 2% fewer people on high streets and in shopping centres compared to last year.

However, the experts stress that the Christmas shopping season isn't over for another week. The way that Christmas falls this year means there are likely to be a large proportion of people who have left it to the final week - especially when they know that the sales will have kicked off by then, so they are more likely to get a bargain.

The issue for the retailers is how many of these purchases are going to be at a discount - and therefore how much lower their profits will be than they were hoping.

On the flip side, shoppers have never had it so good. With major retailers slashing prices, shopping around could produce some major savings. So at the end of a year when so many of us have felt the pressure of rising prices, there's at least one week when we may be surprised by price drops.

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