More buyers hit the shops but discounts may harm takings

Christmas shoppers flocked to Princes Street last weekend
Christmas shoppers flocked to Princes Street last weekend
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Retailers in the Capital have enjoyed a strong bounce in trade as shoppers turn to the high street to pack in their last-minute purchases but it still might not be enough to mean the festive season has been a success.

The St James Centre, home to retailers including John Lewis, Next and HMV, has seen one million shoppers pass through its doors so far this festive season, with customer numbers up three per cent on last year.

But the figures are up against weak comparisons from last year, when trade across the city centre plunged as a result of heavy snowfall.

Retail representatives say many stores have had to slash prices in order to entice people to spend their cash, which has been good news for customers but will have a major impact on the profitability of the stores.

Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, which represents all businesses in the city centre area between Princes Street and George Street, said: “What I’m hearing is that shops were very busy over the weekend, which is good. But a lot of people are looking at year-on-year comparisons and, because there was so much of a weather impact last year, it makes the December figures difficult to read. Some of the percentages are way up but when you look back it is because the whole place was snowed off last year.

“Also, a lot of sales started early so even if stores are busy, are they still going to get the margins they need?

“One thing I can say is that the streets are busy and that is good news because we wanted to make sure we were creating that buzz in the streets. There’s definitely a lot of business around. Whether it is as busy as we would like, and whether discounting will affect margins, is another thing. Time will tell.”

The opening of the long-awaited Primark store has also provided a boost to city centre trade. It is also hoped that its long opening hours will encourage other traders to also open late.

A spokeswoman for the St James Centre said: “As expected, Edinburgh shoppers have come out in force to get organised for Christmas earlier than usual this year. St James shopping has seen a consistent flow and increase of shoppers coming to get all they require for the festive period.

“Up until Sunday 18 we have had over a million shoppers this festive season so far and John Lewis has been experiencing some excellent sales.”

Hillary Woodrow, operations manager for commercial support at John Lewis Edinburgh, said: “Despite snowfall in the early hours of Saturday the branch had an extremely busy weekend.”

Fort Kinnaird shopping park has also reported a “significant” upturn in trade.

Liam Smith, the park’s manager, said: “We have had a very busy time in the run-up to Christmas.

“In the past fortnight, we have welcomed around 700,000 shoppers, with 90,000 hitting the park this weekend. This is a significant increase on the same weekend last year.”