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Failing retailers, confidence spoil Christmas mood in Britain
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11:50, December 27, 2008

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Economic recession in Britain is biting its retailers so hard that they are collapsing as fast as a decommissioned building after the explosive is detonated.

The latest big British retail brands which have been knocked down by the downturn include music, DVDs and games seller Zavvi, the third victim within 48 hours following the fall of menswear retailer The Officers Club and tea and coffee specialist Whittard.

Some 350 British retail companies have reportedly folded during the third quarter of 2008, according to a British insolvency service. The figure is 39 percent higher than a year ago. And 15 more big British retailers are predicted to meet the same fate by mid-January.

Zavvi's demise is a domino effect of the closedown of the general store Woolworths, a subsidiary of which was supplying Zavvi. Woolworths was due to celebrate its 100th birthday next year, but the ill-fated company has failed to survive the downturn and will be consigned to history by Jan. 5.

Woolworths is clearing out all its high street stores across Britain. Its store window notice announcing "last five days" in Hornchurch, a town on the outskirts of London reflects well the declining British economy and creates a psychological blow to anyone passing by.

To some consumers, Woolworths has become part of their life and its dying out means much more than can be imagined.

"I grew up with the local Woolworths. I used to buy Airfix plastic kits to construct planes and other models when I was a kid," said Peter Johnson, 42, a teacher from Hornchurch, adding "its closure makes me feel my childhood memory is disappearing."

Similar to some other locals, Johnson is often a visitor of the local Woolworths store. "My large DVD collection, of about 200 titles, has been built up through Woolworths, as there are few other choices in this small town," he said.

"It has been so convenient to just pop in to check the latest products and even bargains sometimes. But now I have to drive more than half an hour to buy similar stuff in a shopping center."

Losing in competition to online retailers and supermarkets is one reason why many high street sales are plunging.

It has been estimated that Christmas Day will see online shopping transactions in the top 100 million pounds (about 152 million U.S. dollars), as against 84 million pounds last year. Amazon Britain Managing Director Brian McBride expects this year's online trade to be very busy during Christmas, especially on Dec. 25.

Offering Christmas sales has become the only option left for British high street retailers to make the last-ditch profits of the year. If retailers fail to make money during the Christmas, there is a slim chance they will make it through the upcoming year.

The country is witnessing the most discounted Christmas ever seen. Discounts are in nearly all stores in the West End of London. Renowned fashion retailer Austin Reed, which is synonymous with superb British style and has its flagship store on Regent Street, offers sales of up to 70 percent.

For those who are in secure employment such as teachers and doctors, this Christmas offers a unique chance to enjoy a shopping spree. However, it is turning out to be the most depressing Christmas for those who have lost their jobs or are feeling uncertain about their future.

This misery was touched upon by the Queen Elizabeth II as she started her annual Christmas speech. "Christmas is a time for celebration, but this year it is a more somber occasion for many," she said.

The media in Britain do not help the gloom and doom situation at all. Job cuts and failing businesses are breaking the news and making the headlines nearly every day, painting a bleaker picture and sinking consumer's confidence to an all-time low.

Such reports make people feel more pressure in their everyday lives, both financially and psychologically, said Li Xiao, a Chinese who has recently settled in the country. "You can tell that people have less sense of enthusiasm for Christmas," Li said.

The Smiths have cut back more than half of their spending on this year's Christmas gifts compared with last year. The couple from the county of Essex usually drove more than one hour to London to do Christmas shopping in Harrods, one of the most luxurious department stores in London.

"We bought all gifts this year in local stores or a nearby shopping center. We have to budget our expenditure, as we don't know what will happen next year," Smith said. "Things might be getting worse, then we will face money problems."

Many people enjoy shopping in the West End of London during the run-up to Christmas. For some, it is also a nice day out to feel the festival atmosphere. "I made a trip a few days ago to London, I have to say the Christmas lights on Regent Street this year are not as good as before, also only high-end stores were well decorated," said his wife.

British people have been warned of an economic slump deeper than expected. As a result, thousands of people have lost their jobs, house prices are predicted to fall 10 percent in 2009, more people are expected to claim social benefits and unemployment is expected to soar. Even animal sanctuaries in the country have been inundated with dogs and cats as their owners discard them due to financial difficulties.

Source: Xinhua

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