The early Christmas shoppers in Britain seemed unmindful of the creeping cold snap or the economic difficulties they face.
The early Christmas shoppers in Britain seemed unmindful of the creeping cold snap or the economic difficulties they face.

UK retailers hope shoppers don't get cold feet again



Shopping has already turned into a festive frenzy in the UK - and Christmas is still 22 days away. But a big freeze is threatening to spoil the party, just as it did last year

You wouldn't know there was a cold snap, or a struggling economy, in the UK from the joyous ringing of the shops' tills at the start of the festive shopping season.

More than a million shoppers stormed London's West End over the weekend to splash out £250 million (Dh1.43 billion) on gifts and gadgets. Shops in Oxford Street and Regent Street had their strongest trading day in three years.

On Monday, millions more went online, spending £22.4m an hour. Manic Monday the media called it, the busiest shopping day on the internet that is expected to haul in £537m for retailers, up 29 per cent on the same day last year. Web shoppers are expected to spend £8bn this festive season.

It's an auspicious start to Christmas spending, but as the big freeze that has been wreaking havoc in the north heads south, will this festive frenzy turn into a damp squib?

With the scars of last winter's hazards etched on their minds, local authorities and businesses say they are more prepared this time.

Councils have put more lorries on standby to grit and clear the roads and for months companies have prepared contingency plans to keep staff working at home and customers happy.

An overnight snowstorm last February, the UK's worst in two decades, cost the economy £1.2bn. London and the south-east, where 20 per cent of the country's businesses are based, were crippled as roads were closed, trains stranded and workers failed to get to work.

"We tend to think snow won't affect us in the south-east but the experiences of last winter gave a lot of businesses a lot to think about. Our members are much better equipped simply because of those experiences," says Louise Punter, the chief executive at Surrey Chambers of Commerce.

The early cold snap across the UK made last month the coldest November in 17 years, with blizzards and temperatures plunging to as low as minus 18°C in Wales. So far, the north, north-east and south-west have borne the brunt of the freezing conditions.

Business leaders in Scotland have warned these will cost the country more than £50m a day, mostly in lost Christmas trade.

"For Scottish business this cold front could not come at a worse time," says David Greaves, a director at RSA, a global insurance company.

Forecasters say the big freeze will "continue for weeks", followed by milder weather around Christmas. Still, shopping for presents will hardly be affected, as many have the alternative to shop online, albeit a less gratifying experience.

The Christmas cheer trailed by shoppers is followed by more good news from the government this week. According to the Independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), public-sector job losses will not be as high as previously thought.

The budget watchdog's November forecast now predicts that 330,000 public-sector workers will lose their jobs over the next four years, far fewer than the 490,000 it predicted in June.

The OBR has also raised its estimate for economic growth this year from 1.2 per cent to 1.8 per cent. Growth for next year, however, has been revised down from 2.3 per cent to 2.1 per cent and for 2012 down to 2.6 per cent from 2.8 per cent.

Still, there are many out there who are not taking any chances. Last week, surveys by financial websites suggested that many Britons planned to cut back on their Christmas spending this year or even "cancel Christmas" altogether because of the government's austerity drive and to stay out of debt. Last Friday, a survey by the savings provider ING Direct revealed that consumers said they would cut spending in the festive season by 10 per cent, to £490, from £548 last year.

Much as the easy spenders should be hailed for helping to boost the economy, the resolve of the cautious must be applauded. After all, with job losses, rising value-added tax and energy bills, plus changes to state benefits and the likelihood of interest rate rises, who knows what the new year will bring?

Quick facts
  • Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (SL) offers free guided tours of art in the metro and at the stations
  • The tours are free of charge; all you need is a valid SL ticket, for which a single journey (valid for 75 minutes) costs 39 Swedish krone ($3.75)
  • Travel cards for unlimited journeys are priced at 165 Swedish krone for 24 hours
  • Avoid rush hour – between 9.30 am and 4.30 pm – to explore the artwork at leisure
The specs

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 620hp from 5,750-7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh1.05 million ($286,000)

The Specs

Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Power: 118hp
Torque: 149Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Price: From Dh61,500
On sale: Now

The specs

Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6

Power: 540hp at 6,500rpm

Torque: 600Nm at 2,500rpm

Transmission: Eight-speed auto

Kerb weight: 1580kg

Price: From Dh750k

On sale: via special order

UAE v IRELAND

All matches start at 10am, and will be played in Abu Dhabi

1st ODI, Friday, January 8

2nd ODI, Sunday, January 10

3rd ODI, Tuesday, January 12

4th ODI, Thursday, January 14

Most ODI hundreds

49 - Sachin Tendulkar, India
47 - Virat Kohli, India
31 - Rohit Sharma, India
30 - Ricky Ponting, Australia/ICC
28 - Sanath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka/Asia
27 - Hashim Amla, South Africa
25 - AB de Villiers, South Africa/Africa
25 - Chris Gayle, West Indies/ICC
25 - Kumar Sangakkara, Sri Lanka/ICC/Asia
22 - Sourav Ganguly, India/Asia
22 - Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sri Lanka

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League, last-16 second leg
Paris Saint-Germain (1) v Borussia Dortmund (2)
Kick-off: Midnight, Thursday, March 12
Stadium: Parc des Princes
Live: On beIN Sports HD

GOODBYE JULIA

Director: Mohamed Kordofani

Starring: Siran Riak, Eiman Yousif, Nazar Goma

Rating: 5/5

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

MEDIEVIL (1998)

Developer: SCE Studio Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation, PlayStation 4 and 5
Rating: 3.5/5

DUBAI WORLD CUP CARNIVAL CARD

6.30pm Handicap US$135,000 (Turf) 2,410m

7.05pm UAE 1000 Guineas Listed $250,000 (Dirt) 1,600m

7.40pm Dubai Dash Listed $175,000 (T) 1,000m

8.15pm Al Bastakiya Trial Conditions $100,000 (D) 1.900m

8.50pm Al Fahidi Fort Group Two $250,000 (T) 1,400m

9.25pm Handicap $135,000 (D) 2,000m

 

The National selections

6.30pm: Gifts Of Gold

7.05pm Final Song

7.40pm Equilateral

8.15pm Dark Of Night

8.50pm Mythical Magic

9.25pm Franz Kafka

MATCH INFO

France 3
Umtiti (8'), Griezmann (29' pen), Dembele (63')

Italy 1
Bonucci (36')

THE SPECS

Engine: 4.4-litre V8

Transmission: eight-speed automatic

Power: 523hp

Torque: 750Nm

Price: Dh469,000

If you go

The flights

There are direct flights from Dubai to Sofia with FlyDubai (www.flydubai.com) and Wizz Air (www.wizzair.com), from Dh1,164 and Dh822 return including taxes, respectively.

The trip

Plovdiv is 150km from Sofia, with an hourly bus service taking around 2 hours and costing $16 (Dh58). The Rhodopes can be reached from Sofia in between 2-4hours.

The trip was organised by Bulguides (www.bulguides.com), which organises guided trips throughout Bulgaria. Guiding, accommodation, food and transfers from Plovdiv to the mountains and back costs around 170 USD for a four-day, three-night trip.

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government