Expectations of a tough Christmas trading period were intensified this week by awful trading statements and gloomy economic data.

With the exception of the big grocers, many retailers – particularly in fashion – reported weak trading in the first weekend in December.

One chief executive at a leading value-fashion retailer said: “I think the weekend was lousy for everyone. The economic situation is beginning to bite and I don’t think it will get any better. If anyone tells you that they were up, they are lying.”

“We are feeling the pinch,” said Jane Norman chief executive Saj Shah. “The customer is being careful and choosy.”

Hobbs chief executive Nick Samuel said that, while things may pick up if the economic picture improves in the new year, “it is too late for Christmas. People will wait for the Sales”.

According to the BRC, UK retail like-for-like sales increased 1.2 per cent in November compared with 1 per cent in October. However, BRC director-general Kevin Hawkins said the uplift had been driven by discounting.

In the past week, menswear retailer Moss Bros issued a profit warning, while sofa specialist ScS reported that like-for-like sales plummeted 16 per cent.

Debenhams chief executive Rob Templeman warned that this weekend will be the “acid test” if it follows the same pattern as trade seven years ago, when the weekend fell at the same point in the calendar.

Grocer Asda stepped up its fight to grab consumers’ cash by revealing that it will open 200 of its larger stores from 12.01am and trade through to 6pm on Christmas Eve.