The Centre for Economics and Business Research already thinks total December sales will tumble 0.3% compared to a year ago. It could be more. There's not much agreement on stats. For example, the Office for National Statistics recently claimed the value of November sales climbed 3.3% compared to this time last year.
But the British Retail Consortium (BRC) claims retail sales were flat-lining, with total sales value growth of just 0.7% over the same period. Allowing for inflation including VAT, volumes are down.
"These ONS figures seem to fly in the face of retailers' experiences on the streets," said BRC Director General, Stephen Robertson. "The evidence we're receiving suggests consumers have approached this Christmas with great caution, reining in their spending in November and leaving it late to start their Christmas shopping."
Dual lane?Yes, many Christmas shoppers are out in force. But many consumers are being much more careful with cash or plastic; some will holding back for the sales. Are we seeing a dual-lane high-street, then, with stark winners and losers?
Robert Clark from the Retail Week Knowledge Bank isn't sure. "I think the situation is more varied this year. In the past, its been more concentrated on fashion, how well Monsoon, Next, or M&S does. This year it's more diverse this year. The winners will always be supermarkets. Lidl and Aldi are doing pretty well, but Waitrose will be also be doing okay."
"Don't forget last year," he adds, "a lot of of people were affected by the weather - people stopped buying online when there was worries about snow and delivery. It's difficult to generalise. Some inflation has whittled away a considerable amount of spending power. But more than anything, confidence is more important than disposable income".