Retailers are staging a host of “secret Sales” as the Christmas selling season kicks off in an attempt to win spend during the all important golden quarter.

Stores have unleashed a blizzard of money-off vouchers online to woo shoppers with targeted offers and avoid an all-out price war.

In the three months to the end of October, consumer site recorded a 425% year-on-year rise in the overall number of Sales, deals, vouchers and printable vouchers added. There was a 60% increase in the number of voucher codes redeemable online.

The money-off deals come as department store group Debenhams prepares to fire the Christmas starting gun with a four-day Spectacular from Wednesday and as Asda claimed it was “cutting the cost of Christmas” by £150m. Asda finance director Judith McKenna said: “This year will be the most aggressive on price in a decade.”

Vouchers and similar tactics enable retailers to target particular consumer groups or promote particular product as Christmas approaches, winning spend while effectively managing margins on promotions.

Throughout the year retailers have managed stock levels well and are not going into the festive period in clearance mode, but still need to offer wow deals to appeal to shoppers.
Among the retailers using vouchers this year is Marks & Spencer, which is distributing 12.5%-off tokens at its Penny Bazaars and to its cardholders as part of its 125th birthday celebrations. M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose has made clear his intention to avoid early Sales this year and a spokeswoman said the initiative was planned. founder Duncan Jennings said the use of vouchers maintained volume and enabled strategic promotions management while making target consumers “feel special”.

Experian Hitwise research director Robin Goad said consumer searches for vouchers are up 17%, which is less than last year but distorted by the hothouse atmosphere last autumn having contributed to a 200% increase in such searches.

But he also noted an increase in the number of searches for Sales, indicating their continued appeal. He said: “If some of the big retailers do go on Sale there’s enough demand that the rest could fall like dominos.”