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Winter sales get underway in latest phase of pre-Christmas discounting

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Winter sales are already underway online in the latest phase of discounting that has dominated the run up to Christmas 2016.

Gap's Winter Sale is now live, sharing its home page with the chance to put in those last-minute Christmas orders in time for Christmas Eve delivery. Other retailers that are already showcasing their sales on their home page include Dreams and Carpetright , while Boden's sale is due to start on December 18.

Most sites, however, from Marks & Spencer and Debenhams to Argos are still focusing on final Christmas gift purchases, highlighting their final order dates for pre-Christmas delivery.

Those holding out for the traditional start of the winter sale – which, before the advent of Black Friday discounting started when it was too late to buy gifts for pre-Christmas delivery – include department store John Lewis , whose clearance begins online on Christmas Eve and in-store on Boxing Day, and fashion retailer Jigsaw , which makes a point of holding the line against discounting this year, and will also be cutting prices only online on Christmas Eve and in-store from Boxing Day.

Retailers that did not discount – whether online or in-store – in the run up to this Christmas are in an ever-smaller minority this year, according to a new PwC study.

Only 15% of traders did not discount at all at any given point over the last four weeks, says PwC, which collected and analysed data from promotions available in shop windows and on the home pages of department and chain stores over the last four weeks. That's down from about 30% last year.

It says that this year’s promotional activity was heavily focused in the week of Black Friday (November 25) – and that in that week 74% of retailers offered in-store discounts, which is more than in any week since PwC started the survey in 2011.

It said promotional activity appeared to be primarily focused online, with almost 90% of retailers’ websites featuring promotions in Black Friday week, against 74% in store.

“Retailers typically try to spread promotional activity to reduce pressures on stores and online fulfilment," said Lisa Hooker, retail and consumer partner at PwC. "Indeed, over the last five years, the number of retailers on promotion has slowly increased in the weeks following Black Friday.

“This year, however, our research shows that one in four retailers on promotion during Black Friday week returned to full price sales the following week. This suggests that some retailers are being more strategic with promotions, carefully planning in order to preserve margin over the critical festive period.

“It has been interesting to see this year how retailers across the UK high streets and online have been adapting to the growing influence of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Our research shows the majority of retailers we collected data from acknowledged Black Friday and proactively promoted sales around the event; many for up to a fortnight.

“High street retailers are having to adapt their promotions to the rise of online shopping and in a recent survey conducted for PwC, over half (53%) of participants said they would make their purchases online this Christmas, compared to 43% in store.

“It is also interesting to see how retailers are responding to challenges, tactically increasing promotions at different times and in different channels to drive footfall and to protect margin over the festive period.”

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