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Christmas shopping season launches with five days of deals

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Online pre-Christmas discount sales have been launched this week by retailers from Amazon UK to Comet, in a bid to kickstart the seasonal shopping rush.

Amazon UK yesterday launched its second annual Black Friday Deals Week, with a promise to sell 500 products on first-come-first-served, time-limited deals every weekday until Friday.

The retailer says it will have twice as many products on offer as last year, in categories from fashion to books, and electronics. Some will be sold as 'lightning deals,’ with only a limited amount of the product available.

Last year Amazon brought the Black Friday tradition to the UK for the first time. In the US, it seems, Black Friday is the discount shopping day that follows Thanksgiving, and the start of the Christmas shopping period.

"Great bargains were flying off Amazon's virtual shelves last year as customers were quick to click to get a deal before the offer expired," said Christopher North, managing director, Amazon.co.uk. "Doubling the deals for 2011 will mean tens of thousands of additional items are available. The high discounts on offer mean that many items may go quickly, so customers are advised to check back regularly in order to snap up a bargain before the end of Black Friday.

Meanwhile, electrical retailer Comet, sold for £2 earlier this month, has also launched its own Five Day Frenzy, running until Friday, in which limited numbers of products from washing machines and TVs to cameras and coffee machines go on sale for discounts of up to half-price.

According to IMRG, some £7.75bn will be spent by the UK's online shoppers in the December weeks running up to Christmas, with £3.72bn of that expected to be spent in the first two weeks of the month. But total UK sales, for which the high street shops predominantly account, are expected to fall by 2.1% overall.

The online sales mirror special events being held in the UK's high streets as shopkeepers work to win back consumers. They come at a time when fewer people are visiting high streets, according to yesterday's BRC/Springboard-ATCM Footfall and Vacancies Monitor for August to October 2011. It found high street and shopping centres saw 2.5% fewer visitors than at the same time last year, while the number of people going to out-of-town shopping centres was down by 2.0%.

Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium director general, said. "To generate sales, retailers are offering lots of early promotions and running special events. Most people are determined to have their treats over Christmas if they possibly can. Retailers will be hoping the quiet quarter reflected in these figures is the result of households postponing their seasonal spending rather than cancelling it altogether."

Kevin Flood, chief executive of social shopping website Shopow, said: “Retailers that were desperately in need of a reversal of their fortunes have found that they now have an encouraging platform on which to build in the run up to Christmas.

"High street stores have had to pull out all the stops to make their shops attractive by reducing prices early and creating imaginative promotions to increase footfall and more activity at the tills. It is still far from plain sailing and there is still a lot of pressure on retailers and as long as business and consumer confidence remains low, the battle will continue to persuade shoppers to return in their droves."

Our view: Black Friday makes no sense at all to UK shoppers. Over here, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, so why would Christmas shopping be triggered by its passing? But discounts are discounts and in years to come Black Friday, having started out as an internet curiosity, could well become a firm tradition. That, presumably, is the hope.

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