City centre launches its festive fightback

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Some of the city centre’s most popular stores were today preparing to launch a major fightback against rival cities and out-of-town shopping centres.

Retailers hope that the triple boost of a weekend of activity on the newly-pedestrianised Princes Street, people recently being paid and stores slashing prices will encourage shoppers to make this one of the busiest weekends of the year.

Many are offering discounts and promotions to entice shoppers to snub competition from the internet, rival cities and retail parks, while the tram work embargo has allowed a series of special events to take place.

Latest figures indicate that the number of people visiting the city centre has slumped, with business leaders saying that shoppers have turned to out-of-town centres since tram works restarted.

It is hoped that this weekend could prove to be a turning point.

Tram works were halted for the festive lights ceremony last week, but a busier time is expected this week.

Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “Having spoken to a few companies, their feeling was that last weekend was a bit of a false start because the wind was so strong that a lot of the activity did not get under way, so this weekend is now the start of how we want things to be.”

Footfall for Edinburgh was down by 8.5 per cent in October compared with the previous year, with both Princes Street and the High Street down by almost 30 per cent. Retail parks are not said to have seen the same footfall slumps.

Data from Essential Edinburgh also shows store sales were up 0.4 per cent on the previous year, compared with a 0.8 per cent rise across Scotland.

Mr Neal said: “Trams [are] the single biggest issue we have got that other parts of Scotland do not have and there is a definite disruption due to the tram.

“Everyone realises you have to create a vibrant city centre with lots going on, and some will be discounting, some offering incentives and others serving drinks.”

Gordon Drummond, general manager of Harvey Nichols, said: “We expect a busy weekend this weekend because it is pay day weekend and people will perhaps get a lot of shopping done in case they are caught out by the weather again.”

Key activities planned for this weekend include, a local band competition, Santa’s Train, and the arrival of Santa at the east end of Princes Street at 4pm today.

mblackley@edinburghnews.com