Retailers are holding out hope for a last big weekend of trading ahead of Christmas Day, despite the economic outlook being decidedly gloomy.

Kasey Swithenbank, Lush head of retail, UK and Ireland, said the business expected this weekend to be one of its biggest so far as Christmas falls on a Monday for the first time since 2017. 

She said: “We’re predicting Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of this week to be one of our biggest, if not the biggest, few days in the run-up to Christmas. So this week, especially for our retail teams, is going to be full on, to say the least. We’re more than ready for it.” 

Scott Parsons, chief operating officer, UK of real estate firm, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield which owns Westfield and Westfield Stratford City shopping centres in London said he is hopeful as we head towards the “super weekend”.

He said: “Last year 2m people shopped across Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City in the final shopping week before Christmas and as we head into a full two days of weekend shopping ahead of Christmas, we expect this year’s super weekend to fully live up to its name.”

But with retailers preparing for increased footfall in the lead-up to December 25, MRI Software insights director Jenni Matthews told Retail Week the busiest days at the shops may have already passed as customers set aside the weekend for travelling. 

This week, footfall across all UK retail destinations saw a 12% rise on Tuesday while Wednesday saw the biggest rise in footfall − 17% – mainly driven by shopping centres. 

Footfall in shopping centres was up 22% week on week, followed by retail parks with a 20% lift week on week on Wednesday. 

Customers at Miniso checkout

Retailers like Miniso are banking on ‘a burst of shopping at the end of December’

Matthews said: “We forecast that Wednesday and Thursday are going to be the two peak, busiest days for retail. That’s because Friday and Saturday are predicted to be the key getaway days for travelling to Christmas destinations. 

“So I think even though Saturday is going to be busy, it’s not going to be as busy as we anticipated. I think in some areas, they class this coming Saturday as ‘Super Saturday’, but I think most of the ‘panic’ shopping was done the weekend just gone.” 

In grocery, Lidl said that it expects Friday to be its busiest day of the year, while a spokesperson from the Co-op added: “This week and the weekend will be a focus for us, as people top up on their essentials and also the items they have forgotten.”

A spokesperson for Aldi insisted its prediction for a “record-breaking” Christmas remained on track, adding that its range of Specially Selected French Cairanne wine had sold out in “just four days”.

Chinese toys and general merchandise retailer Miniso said: “Despite the challenging economic backdrop in the UK at the moment and reports that suggest that people aren’t shopping as much as they used to, Miniso has been experiencing an uplift in footfall during the Christmas season. This mirrors what we saw last year, where consumers did a burst of shopping at the end of December.”

It added that its Disney products and plushie ranges had been performing well. 

A spokesperson from one luxury department store told Retail Week it feels optimistic and encouraged this festive season as the store has been busy with Christmas shoppers.

While retailers remain hopeful that a big weekend push will get them over the line, this Christmas trading period is taking place against a gloomy economic backdrop. 

Research from PwC found that overall spending on presents and festivities this year will be down 13% versus 2022, slipping from £23bn to £20bn. While PwC expects Christmas to be good for food retailers, it’s expecting tougher times for non-food, particularly in apparel. 

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) monthly retail sales balance dropped to -31 in November, showing that sales volumes fell at a fast pace in the year to December. 

CBI principal economist Martin Sartorius said: “The retail sector ended 2023 on a glum note, with the ongoing downturn in sales volumes deepening during the crucial holiday trading period.

“Looking ahead, retailers are bracing themselves for a new year’s chill, as sales are set to fall at an even quicker pace next month.”

Just how the sector performs will be revealed in January, when clothing giant Next will be among the first to report on January 4.