Shops across Blackpool have sparked a massive sales frenzy in a bid to reinvigorate the resort’s high street and fight back against the internet.
High street stores in the resort are offering discounts of up to 80 per cent off, with shop owners admitting the need to slash prices in order to stay competitive.
Meanwhile, shoppers say they have noticed the sales starting earlier – and believe it could tempt people back into town.
Hugh Evans, policy director of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “I’ve not seen anything like this where the sales have started so early.
“The January sales have become December sales and it shows how difficult trading has been this year because people are resorting to drastic measures.
“We are seeing signs of far more sales happening a lot earlier as many small retailers in particular try to get more people in.
“They are looking at every measure to get people through the doors.”
At Warren James jewellers, on Abingdon Street, a bracelet featuring Swarovski Crystal had been marked down from £119 to £19.
Lizzie Turner, sales advisor at the store, claims the low prices are having an effect.
She said: “People are coming in saying about the sale we’ve got on. A lot of people have started early.”
Nearby Greenwoods was also busy with shoppers browsing a 50 per cent off sale, with £265 suits on offer for £132.50.
Mohammad Ghaus, store manager, said: “Everybody puts on sales now and we want to beat the opposition.
“If one puts one on we have to follow suite so customers get the best deal.”
Graham Dickinson, manager at Debenhams, in the Houndshill Centre, said: “Christmas (shopping) comes later and later every year but in Blackpool I would say we’re quite encouraged by sales in the last two or three years.
“The high street’s a lot more competitive and a lot more reactive, so if we do special offers others will try and match it.”
News of huge discounts comes a day before Blackpool’s first late night shopping event tomorrow and two days before ‘Black Friday’ – the American-inspired day where some businesses are expected to offer massive discounts.
Debenhams and Asda are among those expected to be involved.
Blackpool business leader Steve Pye, believes the early sales could help theresort’s businesses.
He said: “A lot more people are going online to find presents this Christmas but if retailers go along with a Black Friday campaign, it’s a great idea to get people shopping in Blackpool.
“It’s unique and not an act of desperation. All they are doing is bringing the Boxing Day sales forward by a couple of weeks.”
Online spending is estimated to increase by a fifth in the run up to Christmas, with around £5bn expected to be spent over the internet next month.
Meanwhile, official figures show that between January and June this year, the proportion of empty shops across British town centres increased yet again, with an average of 15 per cent of units in each town and city now lying empty.
And while Mr Evans believes the festive period does still traditionally see a boost for shop sales, as well as those on the web, those same shops need to do more to attract people away from their computer screens.
At the same time, he said while bigger stores cut prices, the trend could be worrying for smaller stores.
“Even though the economy is showing signs of picking up retail sales are still sluggish,” he added.
“In many cases the difference between having a good Christmas and a bad Christmas is staying in business or going out of business.”
Some retailers in Blackpool say they have had customers coming into haggle over prices in the hope of getting a bargain, while some traders who are unable to offer discounts admit they have struggled.
David Ashworth, partner at Coves corner gifts, on Queen Street, said: “We’ve struggled a bit for the last couple of years, things are tough and some people are haggling a bit over the price. We’ve got to get a sale and a bit of profit’s better than none.”
To coincide with late night shopping Thursdays between now and Christmas, Blackpool Council is offering free parking at Talbot Road multi-storey, as is the Houndshill.
A similar promotion will run on December 7 as part of the national Small Business Saturday scheme.
Blackpool’s top bargains
• Warren James, Abingdon Street: A bracelet featuring Swarovski Crystal had been marked down from £119 to £19.
• Greenwoods, Abingdon Street: All suits and shoes half price, including a £265 suit on offer for £132.50.
• Trespass, Houndshill Centre: Fifty per cent or more off all goods, such as a men’s jacket down to £69.99 from £149.99.
• Debenhams - 30 per cent off items in all departments.
What the shoppers think...
• Grandmother-of-five, Ena Lea, 58, of Clifton Drive, South Shore, said: “There are a lot more offers in stores now. “Marks and Spencer has already slashed their prices by 50 per cent so if you bought items a few weeks ago it’s a bit upsetting.”
• Hotelier Alan Golding, 52, of Havelock Street, Blackpool, added: “Shops are definitely becoming more desperate. “There’s quite a few putting up sales signs. “I buy in the shops instead of going online. I get presents when I can instead of waiting for them to be delivered.”
• Mum Jamie Lee-Baxter, 25, from Layton, added: “I prefer things that are on offer and sometimes shop online when I can. The Disney shop has 20 per cent off and free delivery so I bought presents there instead of going in the store. “I’m buying more toys this year and look out for deals. The Early Learning Centre has half price deals and I got whatever caught my eye.”
• Shannon Kent, 16, of Spen Corner, Marton, added: “I will only buy presents in shops, I don’t shop online. “I always see what’s in the shops to get ideas and then buy presents because it’s much easier. There’s definitely more deals about this year than previous years and they are coming in much earlier.”