THOUSANDS of shoppers across the North East hit the shops over the weekend to bag themselves a Christmas bargain.
Some stores started their sales and discounts early in the hope of attracting last-minute present buyers.
Eldon Square Shopping Centre in Newcastle and Gateshead’s Metrocentre both reported a successful weekend with increased footfall, with the heavy rain on Saturday not deterring consumers.
Phil Steele, general manager of Eldon Square, said: “As expected, Eldon Square has been extremely busy indeed this weekend, and the festive buzz in the centre has been almost tangible.
“Eldon Square has now enjoyed two years of later opening hours and these have been extended to 9pm during the festive season, which has given visitors even more flexibility to shop.
“Our cafes and restaurants have also been full to bursting with customers recharging their batteries while Christmas shopping.” He added: “Another big hit this year has been our gift wrapping service, sited in a shop unit next to Office, which has had a record-breaking year for the charity The Children’s Foundation.”
A spokesman for Metrocentre said: “As the weekend before Christmas, we fully expected it to be the busiest of the year.
“We will also be open from 9am to 8pm on Boxing Day, for anyone who is looking to buy a treat for themselves, or take advantage of the sales.” Marks and Spencer in Newcastle opened one minute after midnight today to help shoppers picking up stocking fillers and food.
Debenhams in Eldon Square has also started advertising its half price Boxing Day sale.
Chief executive Michael Sharp said: “We have a long history of providing our customers with fantastic value and this year we’re offering shoppers our biggest ever half price sale.”
Meanwhile, supermarket chain Sainsbury’s recruited an extra 20,000 staff over Christmas and sent 2,000 office workers to the shop floor to help meet demand over the weekend.
A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “December 23 is always the busiest day for Christmas shopping, so to have it condensed into six hours will obviously pose challenges.”
Sainsbury’s expected to sell 225,000 bottles of champagne over this weekend alone, and this Christmas will sell 90,000 turkeys, half a million kilograms of cheese, 6,500 tonnes of potatoes and 52 million sprouts.
Consumers were predicted to spend up to £5bn over the course of the weekend as many retailers opened their doors until 11pm on Saturday in the last dash to Christmas.
The British Retail Consortium said Saturday was the busier of the two days – primarily because of longer opening hours.
Spokesman Richard Dodd said: “There is no question that is the biggest spending weekend in the run-up to Christmas and therefore the biggest retail weekend.
“It’s been a slow start for retailers because, while shopper numbers have been building week by week, they have been consistently down on 12 months ago.”
Shops in both Eldon Square and the Metrocentre will close at 5pm today.