Retailers hope for bumper spending

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High street retailers are preparing for what they hope will be the biggest day of the year amid gloomy sales figures in the last dash to Christmas.

This weekend will be “the big one” as consumers spend as much as £5bn, the British Retail Consortium predicts, with today being the busier because of longer opening hours.

Visa Europe also expects today to be the year’s busiest shopping day, with customers set to spend £1.26bn on their Visa cards alone.

The credit card company predicts it will process 31.9 million transactions today, with 2pm to 3pm expected to be the busiest hour.

It said shoppers appeared to be saving up for a “spree” this weekend, with figures showing an incremental increase in spending in recent weeks.

Visa Europe commercial director Dr Steve Perry said: “The way in which Christmas falls this year means that, in comparison to 2011, we appear to be a week behind in terms of consumer spending.”

The firm’s weekly analysis had shown UK consumer spending down 2.9 per cent annually.

Dr Perry added: “Competition for consumer spending is fierce with growing numbers of consumers still visiting online retailers to snap up bargains ahead of anticipated discounting on the High Street in the final furlong before Christmas.”

A spokeswoman for John Lewis said the last two weekends had been record-breakers in terms of sales and momentum was continuing to build, adding that “another record-breaker isn’t out of the question”.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) said confidence on the high street remained low as the UK prepared for “what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend of the year”.

Its annual Christmas survey found that 84 per cent of town centre managers said shoppers’ confidence had either not improved or worsened compared with this time last year.