Seasonal timetable means stores can still expect traditional Christmas rush

A growing number of retailers and analysts are dismissing the scaremongering over slow Christmas trading.

Sector veterans have drawn attention to the full week of shopping before Christmas Day, which falls on a Saturday. In similar years, such as 1999, this has caused unusually weak sales in early December followed by a surge in the final week.

House of Fraser deputy chief executive David Adams said the comparison was useful, adding it is 'amazing how close' the group was tracking to 1999.

In that year, shopper traffic monitor SPSL counted almost as many shoppers in the final six trading days - only 2.9 per cent down on the previous week, which had seven full days of trading.

John Lewis director of retail operations Gareth Thomas said consumers were leaving shopping later every year. Research undertaken by the group showed that 40 per cent of shoppers plan to leave their Christmas buying until the final week.

He expected sales in the week to Saturday December 18 to beat the£80 million pre-Christmas peak of 2003. He said the trend towards later shopping meant sales in the week to last Saturday were 'disappointing', down 4.2 per cent.

SPSL director Dr Tim Denison said: 'We are confident that Christmas will be very like last year, although the final week will be busier.'

JJB Sports finance director David Greenwood concurred: 'I would like to think it will pick up in the next few weeks as people wait until the last minute to make purchases. There are two extra (shopping) days so people have a bit longer.'

Austin Reed chief executive Nick Hollingworth said: 'I don't think trade is as bad as people are making out.' He said the group had decided to hold off the Sale at its womenswear chain Country Casual until after Christmas.

For the past five years the Sale has been in the second week of December.

'There is a danger of bringing Sales further and further forward,' he said.

TJ Hughes chief executive Robin Dickie said he expected shoppers to be out in force when the school holiday begins on December 17.

Retail Week/ICM Poll: page 19.