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County gears up for busiest weekend

09:00 22 December 2012

The Christmas lights in Ipswich have brought out the shoppers.

The Christmas lights in Ipswich have brought out the shoppers.

Archant

AS shoppers prepare to do battle on the busiest weekend of the year, town centres across Suffolk are preparing for a make-or-break Christmas.

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For some retailers the next two days are vital – the pre-Christmas period is responsible for up to 30% of their total profit for the year.

And despite the attractions of internet shopping, in Ipswich there is confidence that this year will be good for high street traders.

The “Shop Local” message also seems to be extending to other parts of the county – in Bury St Edmunds the number of people visiting the Arc shopping centre has increased dramatically compared with last year.

There is some concern nationally this year that because Christmas Day falls on a Tuesday, that Sunday trading laws could hit sales.

Traditionally December 23 is the busiest day of the year for retailers, especially for food shopping.

Despite pleas from some major retailers for a relaxation of Sunday Trading Regulations, stores will only be open for their normal six hours.

That means shoppers are expected to extend their search for sprouts, spuds and parsnips over three days.

However this weekend is vital for all retailers – and Ipswich Central chief executive Paul Clement is optimistic that the town will see a substantial Christmas boost this year.

He said: “Every day I’m getting more and more optimistic about this Christmas – while my colleagues in other towns seem to be rather nervous.”

The town’s new Christmas lights and controversial “tree” on the Cornhill had helped: “I’ve been doing this in effect since 2000, and the interest we’ve had in the tree and in lights around the town this year is much greater than before,” Mr Clement said.

“People have been making special trips to see the tree and our new lights, and hopefully are then going on to spend money in the town.”

Mr Clement was also keen to point out that the town centre was looking quite healthy – with the number of empty retail units down from this time last year.

“We had 87% of units in Ipswich occupied last year. This year the figure is up very slightly at 88%. It’s only a minor rise but it goes against the national trend.”

Along the A14, traders in Bury St Edmunds are also looking forward with confidence to the busiest weekend of the year.

The manager of the Arc shopping centre, Colin Roberts, said footfall through the centre was going to be at least 20% up on last year – from 205,000 during the Christmas period in 2011 to 250,000 this year.

And nationally high street retailers are preparing for what they hope will be the biggest day of the year amid gloomy sales figures in the last dash to Christmas.

This weekend will be “the big one” as consumers spend up to £5 billion, the British Retail Consortium predicts, with today being the busier of the two days primarily because of longer opening hours.

Visa Europe also expects it to be the year’s busiest shopping day, with customers set to spend £1.26 billion on their Visa cards alone.

The company predicts it will process 31.9 million transactions today, with 2pm to 3pm expected to be the busiest hour.

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