CHRISTMAS shoppers are spending like its 2007 as retailers reported a phenomenal sales weekend.
Retailers across the country said this weekend was the busiest shopping period in five years.
The mild weather seems to have encouraged people to visit more shops this year.
And Retail Excellence Ireland said that the timing of Christmas Day this year helped boost sales as more people had time off beforehand.
Despite being in the midst of the deepest recession in living memory, shoppers have been splashing out on luxury goods.
However, many more shoppers are on the hunt for a bargain this year -- with shops starting their sales early this year.
"Most of the ladies' fashion stores have now gone into sale to help clear slow-moving stock," says the Retail Excellence Ireland research.
"The Irish woman is more price-savvy at this time of year than her male counterpart and many are waiting for the big reductions after Christmas."
The number of Christmas trees sold this year has also increased on last year.
But the top buys this year are electrical goods and gadgets, with some retailers reporting as much as a 1,000pc increase in sales of tablets.
"Some sectors are down but overall we're looking at a 1pc-3pc increase," said David Fitzsimons, of Retail Excellence Ireland.
"There are a lot of things going in our favour -- the weather, the Budget wasn't as bad as people thought and even Christmas Day on a Tuesday is good, it gives us another shopping day."
Retailers hope the ringing tills will continue throughout the rest of the week and as much as 70pc of shops in urban areas will open on St Stephen's Day -- an unprecedented percentage of stores.
"Some stores, however, are concerned that there may not be much cash around after Christmas for the big spend," said Mr Fitzsimons.
"While the luxury and value ends of the market are performing robustly, the middle market is very challenging."
And in a complete reversal of recent trends, shoppers are now making the trip from the North down to the Republic to shop.
Belfast retailers said that they have been hit by a 30pc decline in sales, while those south of the border have reported an increase in customers from Northern Ireland.
With tensions high in Belfast with the flag-flying dispute, consumers are more inclined to bring their business down south.
Novelty items were not so popular this year and consumers are leaning towards more practical goods for gifts such as shoes.
Retailers were expecting another busy day today, with the traditional last-minute shopper hitting the shops.
Most shops will remained open until 6pm.
Sinead Ryan, page 18