SHOPPERS have finally loosened their purse strings -- but retailers say most cash-conscious consumers are waiting to splash out in the sales after Christmas.
Some €500m will be spent over the next few days, with massive discounts of up to 40 per cent in some outlets.
Shopping madness has descended on our high streets, on what is traditionally the biggest spending weekend of the year.
Thousands of people across the country will be making the most of their last chance to bag presents on the last shopping weekend before Christmas.
Clerys in Dublin has discounts of up to 50 per cent throughout its store, with bargains such as Donna Hay Royal Doulton delph slashed from €100 to €50.
The price of an Earl leather corner sofa has been reduced from €1,999 to €1,299.
Long queues snaked through Eason's flagship store in Dublin's O'Connell St yesterday as savvy shoppers snapped up 'three for two' book offers.
Clarks' shoe shops have already started their sale, with reductions of up to 50 per cent.
Meanwhile, Arnotts is offering discounts of up to 60 per cent in Gap.
Online purchases for delivery pre-Christmas have also been brisk, with a 25 per cent increase this year.
The online shopping market has already reached a record €4.6bn worth of sales this year, according to new figures from eTail Excellence Ireland.
Dublin's Chamber of Commerce communications manager Patrick King said sales had intensified in recent days -- but a rush of last-minute shoppers was expected today and tomorrow.
He told the Sunday Independent: "Department stores are bringing in well over double what they would normally bring in a given month."
Toy sales are going very well in particular.
Chambers Ireland said that their members in Kerry, Limerick and Sligo were all reporting strong consumer demand.
Retailers in the country's cities say trade has picked up over the last week after a slow start earlier in the month.
Large crowds are also expected on Christmas Eve as shoppers, particularly panicked husbands, do their last-minute present shopping.
Retail Excellence Ireland chief executive David Fitzsimons said: "People have just been paid, social welfare payments have just gone in and there's great value out there, so we should be looking at spending of half a billion euro between now and Christmas."
Most retailers are predicting a modest growth in turnover this Christmas, but nothing like the double-digit growth seen in Celtic Tiger years.
While Dublin's Chamber of Commerce won't have figures until the weekend is over, many shops make one-fifth of their turnover in the run-up to Christmas.
Retailers on the street say there will be "exceptional value" in the post-Christmas sales, particularly in ladies fashion and jewellery, electrical products and TVs.