Retail giants: You will spend money!

Tesco, John Lewis and London's West End are flexing their muscle to keep the tills ringing.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The trouble on the high street is official: consumption dropped 0.2% in the third quarter, the steepest fall since late 1995. And the big retailers are wasting no time trying to arrest that - introducing longer opening hours, cheaper prices and early VAT cuts. It's just a shame that not every retailer can afford such measures...

First up, shops in London's West End took the unusual move today of opening doors at 7am, lending a bleary-eyed air to the idea of doing your Christmas shopping early. More than 35 stores, including Topshop, M&S and Hamleys, are part of the Early Bird promotion offering discounts and personal shoppers, breakfast and even complimentary champagne. There's nothing like a bit of early-morning alcohol abuse to loosen those purse strings.

John Lewis, whose Oxford Street store isn't part of the Early Bird worm-catching, has been forced to follow the likes of M&S, House of Fraser and Debenhams by announcing sweeping discounts of up to 25%, particularly on its fashion range. The store is in an unenviable position: not only does it suffer from the shopper exodus, but it's also hamstrung by its 'never knowingly undersold' hook. So when House of Fraser is slashing prices on fashion, and M&S decides to run a one-day 20% off sale, the Partnership has to wield the discount stickers too.

The chain has just reported an overall sales fall of 13.3%; home and electrical trade remained ‘challenging', with far fewer living rooms being sacrificed at the altar of the 50" TV. On the other hand, haberdashery and fashion fabrics were up 14% on last year. So telly fans can take solace this Christmas: even if you're still left pining for that sleek cinematic HD set, you may well find yourself unwrapping a home-knitted TV cosy for your ailing 22" fossil.

Tesco, meanwhile, has announced that from today it will pass on to customers the benefit of Alistair Darling's 2.5% VAT reduction - even though it doesn't officially come into effect until Monday.

Analysts reckon discounts will be widespread right up to Christmas. That's bad news for retailers - sales are down, and such discounting squeezes valuable margins. But at least the big guns have the muscle to cope with it - it's likely to be the smaller retailers who will suffer most.

The only winners are the Christmas shopaphobes, who won't feel forced to drag themselves out of bed by 7am just to bag a bargain. Unless they want free champagne...

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