SOME 18 million bargain-hunters are set to hit the Christmas jackpot — as the festive sales kick off early.
Desperate stores have slashed prices earlier and bigger than ever in a bid to drive up trade, and around £1.1billion is expected to be splurged today on high streets and websites.
The cost of living crisis has made Brits more cautious, with research showing 40 per cent have delayed their gift-buying in the hopes of bagging a bargain.
Fellas are said to be more than twice as likely as women to leave their Christmas shopping until the week before the big day.
And holding their nerve is set to pay off big time, as major chains ranging from Next, Matalan, Debenhams and John Lewis have already started discounting their stock, with some goods half price.
Even the UK’s biggest toy chain, The Entertainer, has slashed prices by as much as 50 per cent.
One boss of a big retail chain told The Sun he had not seen such widespread festive discounting since the aftermath of the financial crisis.
He added: “There were always the usual suspects, like Debenhams who used to be on permanent discount, but this time everyone is playing the game to get shoppers through their doors.”
For the first time in three years, Brits can leave their shopping to the last minute without disruption from either Covid restrictions, postal or rail strikes.
Jenni Matthews, marketing and insights director at MRI Software, said: “Unlike last year, many consumers will take the opportunity to head out to retail destinations throughout this week.”
Festive trading is the high street’s most important time and many chains live or die by how much they make.
However, households are expected to spend £40 less than they did last year, with overall spending falling from £23billion to £20billion.
That is despite inflation pushing prices higher, and suggests people will buy fewer presents and opt for bargains.
The so-called “Golden Quarter” for retailers between October and December got off to a lacklustre start for many chains. Industry experts blamed unseasonably mild weather, which made many shoppers reluctant to buy winter coats and jumpers.
As a result, many fashion chains risk being lumbered with a massive mountain of stock they need to clear before spring.
Many fear they will have to discount even further in the new year, hitting profits even harder.
Superdry, best known for its puffer coats and parkas, slashed the price of some products by 70 per cent on Monday in a desperate attempt to get the tills ringing before Christmas.
Yesterday the retailer blamed the weather for its sales tanking by 13 per cent.
Analysts also say that retailers are playing catch-up after the much-hyped Black Friday turned into a bit of a damp squib.
Over previous years, November has been a time of super-spending.
But squeezed budgets has made people think twice about splurging online.
This is despite almost 90 per cent of retailers offering some type of Black Friday promotion.
Experts also say there is growing scepticism about whether the discounts on offer during Black Friday are genuinely good value.
It has led to early Christmas sales, with bigger bargains potentialy arriving soon after.
Lisa Hooker, PwC consumer markets leader, said: “If shoppers are right and they do spend less, coupled with weaker autumn sales and less interest in Black Friday, there could be deeper discounts as retailers clear seasonal stock after Boxing Day.
“This will be particularly true in categories such as big-ticket, home, DIY, electricals, and toys, which consumers told us were less important to them this Christmas than in previous years.”
Tight budgets have also forced a change in Christmas shopping habits.
A growing trend has seen families adopt “Secret Santas” or siblings clubbing together to buy parents one bigger, better present rather than lots of little ones.
Dean Kramer, director at Currys, said: “We are seeing a surprising shift in gifting habits this year, as people try and balance the cost-of-living crisis with their desire to give family and friends presents they will love.”
People are also cutting back on their festive food spending, with more shoppers turning to discounters Aldi and Lidl than ever before.
Traditionally Brits “trade up” to more premium grocers over Christmas, with Marks & Spencer usually selling one in four of the turkeys bought in December.
However, this year the supermarkets are all battling it out to show they offer the best value.
Sainsbury’s used to trumpet its premium “Taste the Difference” lines at this time of year, but instead it has plastered its £20 Christmas dinner promotion across train stations and bus stops instead.
This is also the first Christmas where retailers are using loyalty as a weapon, giving much bigger discounts for shoppers who have membership cards.
Tesco is selling a litre of Smirnoff vodka for £24, down to £18 with a Clubcard.
Having a Sainsbury’s Nectar cuts the price of a bottle of Baileys from £16.50 to £10.
The only downside to the hefty Christmas discounting is that many early-bird shoppers who carefully managed their budgets by being organised now feel left out.
One said: “I’m tempted to take all my shopping back and start again.”
Robert Johnson is a UK-based business writer specializing in finance and entrepreneurship. With an eye for market trends and a keen interest in the corporate world, he offers readers valuable insights into business developments.