Last-minute shoppers hunt bargains

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Christmas shopping

Last-minute shoppers will flock to the high street today in what is thought to be one of the busiest retail weekends of the year.

Shops are slashing their prices as they entice bargain-hunters to make the most of the final weekend before Christmas.

Debenhams, Mothercare, Gap, Argos and BHS are all slashing prices, while Marks & Spencer has launched a last-minute "Mega Day" of 30% clothing discounts.

Austin Reed is offering 25-60% off all womenswear and House of Fraser made a "gift of indulgence" with 50% off selected lines.

M&S, seen as a retail bellwether, is under particular scrutiny as embattled boss Marc Bolland hopes for an improvement in the store's struggling womenswear division.

Analyst Nick Bubb said the M&S discounts were likely to hurt the brand, irritating loyal customers who paid full price in recent weeks.

He said: "Whether it will turn out to be worth doing that in short-term, just to try to save the CEO's job, remains to be seen, but the M&S brand will suffer long-term damage."

The Independent claimed only one in four stores was refusing to discount and reported some customers planning to return presents purchased at full price before buying them again on sale.

Retailers will consider this weekend a last chance to turn their profits around after the British Retail Consortium showed a 3.4% annual drop in footfall from September to November - the sharpest fall since August 2012.

Latest official figures from the sector showed retail sales up by 0.3% in November, following an October when they fell by 0.9%. Experts said that it meant unless there was a sharp rebound in December, the fourth quarter would be relatively flat.

The New West End Company, representing 600 retailers across Bond Street, Oxford Street, and Regent Street, said footfall was down 9.8% from last year.

But Barclaycard, which says it handles "nearly half of the UK's debit and credit card transactions", predicted yesterday would be the busiest day of the year for ATMs with over £1 billion in withdrawals..