IT was supposed to be one of the busiest shopping days of the year as consumers spent £1.5m a minute across the UK.
But in Huddersfield yesterday afternoon, after a brief surge in the morning large parts of the town centre resembled more of a ghost town as shoppers shunned the high street for the warmth of indoor malls.
While the Kingsgate Centre bustled with last-minute shoppers the majority of the shops on King Street, New Street and Market Street were noticeably quieter than normal.
Meltham woman, Lisa Clay, who was out shopping with her friend, said she thought there weren’t enough appealing shops in Huddersfield town centre to draw customers in.
She said: “It’s pretty quiet today I’d say.
“The Kingsgate Centre is busier than normal but the high street is not busy at all.
“I think a lot of people go to Meadowhall, White Rose or the Trafford Centre.
“Huddersfield’s not got a great deal of choice.”
A shop manager at New Street toy shop the Early Learning Centre said she had noticed a dip in trade as people struggled to afford expensive Christmas gifts.
The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “It’s definitely quieter than last year.
“We started our sale earlier than ever and people are definitely spending less.”
Car parks around the town centre were largely empty on Saturday and Sunday but over at the Kingsgate Centre motorists queued for access to the more modern facility.
Kevin Davis, area manager for F Hinds jewellers, said it was hard to compare this year with last year due to the heavy snow of 2010.
But he said: “People are spending less – they’ve definitely cut back, but on balance we’re about the same as last year.
“At the end of the day people still want to treat their friends and family, but the average spend is probably less.”
Mr Davis said watches had been a popular item this year, but said he didn’t subscribe to the theory that shoppers were leaving it later this year in the hope that stores would start their sales early.
He added: “Every year it’s a game of chicken between the retailer and the consumer but I don’t think people are leaving it any later than usual.”
David Bargil, who was working selling ‘Click Heat’ heated pouches at one of the centre’s stalls, said it had been a good weekend.
“I think it’s going well,’’ he said. “It’s busier this weekend than last weekend.
“Half the people are buying them as a gift and half are buying for themselves.’’
Outside Huddersfield millions of Christmas shoppers poured into stores on what was one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Across the country more than 11 million people were predicted to have spent more than £1 billion by the end of yesterday according to a report by shopping comparison website Kelkoo.
It said consumers would be spending £128 each on Christmas presents and other goods, taking the average family spend this festive season to almost £700. Shops on Oxford Street in London were expected to take £100m over the tills while in Manchester more than one million people have visited the Trafford Centre in the last 10 days.
Gordon McKinnon, director of operations at the Trafford Centre, said: “Many shoppers have left it late this year, but they’ve been out in force today and over the last two weeks.
“We have extended our opening hours in the run-up to Christmas until 11pm to give people more opportunity to do their shopping.
“No-one can pretend this has been an easy year for retail, but I believe there is a sense of optimism amongst most retailers who are seeing things come right once again at Christmas time.”
Those keen to avoid the crowds and parking problems were still placing orders on the internet to make sure their gifts arrive in time for the big day.
Online sales are expected to soar by over 16% to £13.4 billion this Christmas compared with last year and compared with a 2% fall on the high street, according to the Kelkoo report.
See what a Huddersfield online retailer makes of it - and why they're having to work hard too.
PEOPLE are leaving big present buying nearer and nearer to Christmas day in the hope they’ll bag themselves a real bargain.
And this year is proving even tougher – even for the big digital retailers.
Nick Glynne, managing director for online retailer Buy It Direct based at Trident Business Park off Leeds Road in Deighton, said it was far tougher this year with profit margins being squeezed even tighter.
“We are now only making a tiny profit on each item,’’ he said. “We feel we are working at twice the pace just to stay the same. Although we have seen a 30% increase in orders, it is far harder this year as we have had to drop prices.’’
He said that although 3D TVs had sold well, other big screens hadn’t and the company had over-ordered by between 400 and 500 which he would now have to discount further.
He said the firm’s sale would start on Christmas Eve and in recent times Boxing Day has been busier for Buy It Direct than pre-Chistmas with people waiting for the sales to start.
“This is why people are waiting and waiting for the discounts to start this week,’’ said Mr Glynne. “Although the products they are after may no longer be available by then, they are prepared to take the risk.’’
He said people were now shunning laptops which they see as more for businesses and college use and opting for the latest high technology gadgets such as smart phones and tablets instead.
“We have also seen a huge increase in sales from overseas due to the weakness of the pound,’’ he said.
Buy It Direct, which employs 130 people – 105 of them at its Huddersfield base – is split into five categories, Direct TVs, Laptops Direct, Appliances Direct, Air Con Direct and Bambino Direct.