Busiest shopping day of the year predicted

Christmas shopper
Image caption With only two days to go until Christmas, many presents still need to be bought

Friday is set to be the busiest shopping day to date as consumers rush to buy last minute presents and food, credit card firm Visa has predicted.

The last shopping day before Christmas Eve regularly sets records - the previous record was 23 December 2010.

Visa expects to process 33 million transactions worth more than £1.5bn, an increase of 8% on last year.

It is also expecting a rush on Saturday, with the busiest hour of the year between 12:00 and 1pm.

Leaving it late

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that retail sales, excluding fuel, fell by 0.7% in November from the month before.

The figures led to fears that some High Street retailers may struggle, and retail experts say any pickup in sales this year has been late.

"Christmas has been very slow this year, from a retailing point of view, and its really only since last week that there's been much uplift at all and it looks as though its gone up by between nine and 12%," said Professor Joshua Bamfield, from the Centre for Retail Research.

Many retailers reported a sharp increase in shopper numbers last weekend, the final full weekend before Christmas.

Sales in last year's final weekend were hit by heavy snow across much of the country, which depressed the figures.

Jace Tyrell from the New West End Company, which represents shops on London's Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street, said trading had increased by more than 10% compared with last year.

More than 600,000 people visited the three central London shopping streets last Saturday, with the peak time between 3pm and 4pm.

A number of retailers are hoping for a strong Christmas period to help stave off financial problems.

Earlier this week, HMV said it may sell its live music division to raise funds, as it battles with another drop in sales.

The firm said like-for-like sales in the seven weeks to 17 December - which includes most of the critical pre-Christmas period - had fallen particularly sharply, down 13.2%. However, it added that it had seen a big rise in sales last weekend.

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