There was a certain thrill to watching Cyber Monday break all online trading records in the UK last week.

There was a certain thrill to watching Cyber Monday break all online trading records in the UK last week. One estimate I saw suggested more than £465m was spent online by UK shoppers on December 3.

In a fascinating glimpse into the future of retail, UK shoppers made 112 million visits to retail websites and spent 15 million hours shopping online, according to data company Experian. But if that was what was being shown to us by the Ghost of Christmas Future, then the Ghost of Christmas Present is in a less charitable mood.

With Cyber Monday behind us, focus is well and truly on the run up to Christmas and it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions as to how this key trading period will unfold from the data available so far.

There have been optimistic signs, most notably from John Lewis, which reported record sales as revenue soared 15% to £142m in its week to December 8, and from London’s West End, where shoppers spent £150m over the weekend as they stocked up on festive goods. But the performance of John Lewis has outstripped its rivals all year and the West End success was driven by a one-off tourist boost from holidays in Spain, Italy and Portugal.

Deloitte, meanwhile, says Christmas sales are expected to rise just 1% this year, while the Opera Solutions Retail Predictor for Retail Week is predicting retail sales growth in December to come in at 2%.

Allied to our ongoing conversations with retail chiefs, the data points to a cautious optimism that consumers still intend to celebrate and spend, although with inflation running at 2.7% there may still be a fall in actual volumes.

What is clear is that the pressure and anxiety for the sector is likely to build over the next two weeks as shoppers delay that spend even further, waiting for the pre-Christmas Sales. There was plenty of talk this year of retailers holding their nerve, but PwC found 69% of high street retailers were either on Sale or advertising money-off promotions in their windows this week.

Christmas has become an intriguing game of brinkmanship between shopper and shopkeeper. Following years of promotional countdowns, consumers are now trained to wait for the retail sector to lose its nerve and roll out the Sale signs, making the Ghost of Christmas Past the most haunting figure hovering over the high street in the lead up to December 25 this year.