Britons still hitting stores, just spending less
Lagging economy affects holiday sales in England
LONDON - Snow is falling, shops are packed, and people in the streets are carrying bags filled with brightly-wrapped Christmas presents.
Londoners are flocking to Harrods and London’s lesser-known shops and malls despite the deep recession that sees Britain lagging behind much of Europe and the United States in its uncertain recovery.
But many say they are being much more frugal than in the past. In Britain and across Europe, Christmas 2009 is turning into a mixed bag of cheer and gloom.
The downturn has lasted longer than initially forecast, and retail sales figures released yesterday show continued downward drift.
Some cautious shoppers say they are buying less and thrifting more, and those who have lost their jobs say they have cut way back, but others say it’s Christmas as usual - spend, spend, spend.
The same mood can be found in much of Europe, where shoppers seem subdued but less shaken than they were last year, when headlines about the economic collapse dominated the headlines and airwaves.
“People are buying quicker this year,’’ said Boris Vlahusic, selling scarves in a Christmas market in the Frankfurt train station. “They don’t think too much. The atmosphere is much like it was two or three years ago. And more people are deciding to buy. Not just to look and to say goodbye.’’
Londoner Ruth Sullivan was among the crowds marching into Harrods, even though she proclaimed she doesn’t usually like the landmark store. She has tried to cut her spending a bit this year by picking up high quality, like-new clothes at charity shops throughout the year - stashing them away until Christmas, when they make great gifts - but she found herself drawn to Harrods.
Sullivan, 42, came out an hour later, her bag filled with the latest must-have gift for her daughter - this year it’s a Go Go Hamster cuddly toy - and a few other odds and ends.
“What recession?’’ she said. “It’s not affecting me. I’m quite happy, and I haven’t spent very much.’’
But some cautioned that the festive scene masked hidden hardship.
Lynn Cronin, who lost her retail job in January and has been unable to find a new position, said there are plenty of shoppers but fewer people actually spending.
“The lines are shorter,’’ said Cronin, waiting for a bus to her West London neighborhood after buying a few items. “I’m cutting back completely, and I think most people are cutting back. There’s nothing out there, no jobs, so I’ve made a smaller budget, and stuck to it.’’
In the past, when she had a regular pay check, Cronin would often start the Christmas season with a budget - but she always went over. That won’t happen this year, she vowed.
Her friend, Anne Hickey, was also laid off. She was determined to get a gift for all of her loved ones, but determined not to give in to temptation and spend freely.
“I love Christmas, it’s still going to be special,’’ she said. “Everyone is going to get something. I’m just watching the budget.’’
Even some people who have kept their jobs say they have downsized their shopping.
“I’m spending less on each person, setting a [$32] limit, when in the past I might spend’’ $80, said Jo Dodd, a 32-year-old Londoner who said her family has not been directly affected by the downturn.
Some shopkeepers in the upscale Knightsbridge neighborhood that surrounds Harrods said they are doing fine because their regular customers are still coming, and buying.