Crunch Christmas: Cardiff's seasonal deal squeeze

Packed streets leave you in no doubt - Cardiff still ranks as one of Britain's top Christmas shopping destinations.

But speak to the traders, and you will hear that this year, the retail landscape has changed dramatically.

Latest UK retail sales figures out on Thursday show that despite high street discounting, sales fell by 0.4% in November from the month before.

The British Retail Consortium said the figures from the Office for National Statistics were "thoroughly miserable".

While venues like St David's shopping centre act as a magnet to draw in the customers, getting them to hand over their cash is becoming harder.

City centre manager Paul Williams puts it bluntly: "If people don't see the right deal - they won't buy it."

"People are actively looking for a deal or a promotion, they want money off - it is a case of buy it - or forget it.

"The mindset is definitely different this year. We are in a different retail territory."

Mr Williams said the number of promotions and deals being actively marketed this year is up about a third on Christmas 2010, with some limited success.

So far this month, city centre stores are reporting a slight increase overall on last year's sales, by about 2%.

But the city centre manager said that the current economic climate has made it difficult: "It is highly competitive out there," he remarked.

'Slow start'

David Hughes-Lewis, who speaks on behalf of the Cardiff Retail Partnership, also accepts that purses and wallets have been feeling the squeeze.

"The month of December started relatively slowly in comparison to previous years," he said.

"A lot of people were looking - but going away saying they would think about it - spending has been very cautious."

But he still believes there is plenty of reason to be optimistic in the final ten days of Christmas shopping.

"Last Friday - the flood gates opened. We are going to see Cardiff rammed with shoppers.

"A lot of people have been holding off buying all year, and this is now the one time that they will shell out, especially where children are concerned at Christmas."

He is also convinced that much of the credit for driving shoppers to the city centre is the St David's complex.

It saw a £675m revamp and expansion two years ago, attracting new big names to the city, like John Lewis.

"I think Cardiff is bucking the retail trend. We are attracting visitors from over the Severn Bridge and along the M4 corridor," argued Mr Hughes-Lewis.

"That is all to do with the success of the St David's.

"Without question, it is the magnet that draws the people into Cardiff and they then filter around the city."

Retail magnet

But is that influx of shoppers rubbing off on other stores in the city centre - or is just pulling the Christmas spend into the St David's centre?

Image caption A million shoppers made their way through the revamped St David's centre last week

According to Mr Hughes-Lewis, who is also a St Mary's Street jeweller, the picture is mixed: "Some, possibly, are feeling the pinch - myself - no.

"Sales have held up really, despite the building and regeneration work that has been taking place on St Mary's Street over the year.

"But there are some retailers that are struggling and some of them are bigger names."

In the myriad of arcades that criss-cross the thoroughfares from St Mary's Street to the Hayes, St David's and Queen's Street, traders say they too have noticed changes this year.

"We are very quiet to be honest, but then Christmas isn't really our best time of the year, that is Halloween and in the new year," said Sian Welsh at the High Street Arcade's joke shop.

She said she felt the arcades were also quieter this year, but did not feel that the bright lights of St David's was to blame.

"I think it is more to do with the economy as a whole, rather than shoppers being lured away," she said.

'Not fantastic'

But in the specialised book and model shop of Ian Allan's in the Royal Arcade, Lesley Bennett said it was firmly business as usual this Christmas.

"I think there are a lot more people shopping in Cardiff at the moment, but we are a specialist store and there is nothing else that compares to what we do in the city," she said.

"So, in some ways we are quite lucky, we have a very loyal customer base.

"Business is okay. It's not fantastic, but it is not a disaster either, we are on a par with last year.

"Given that current economic climate, that in itself is something of an achievement."

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