RETAILERS in north Essex are preparing for the busiest shopping weekend of the year following a year of poor sales figures.

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Business leaders have called on shoppers to dig deep and spend their hard-earned cash in independent stores wherever possible this weekend for the last dash before Christmas.

David Burch director of policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce, said: “We certainly encourage people to shop locally where ever possible and use a wide variety of independent shops as well which usually have something a little bit different to offer and often use smaller manufacturers as well.

“It’s also important not to forget smaller towns across the county which will have more of the smaller retailers in their high streets.

Mr Burch said it had been a slow year for retailers with major summer events keeping shoppers away from the high street.

“It’s been a pretty miserable year for retailers in many respects,” he said. “When everyone was revelling the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics people weren’t spending money, so we hope people will feel the need to cheer themselves up with some good old fashioned retail therapy.”

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

Yesterday in Colchester, the Christmas shopping rush had already begun.

Paul Smith, cabinet member for business and resources at Colchester Borough Council, said: “There were lots of people doing their shopping today when I was in town so that was very encouraging for retailers.

“Colchester is one of the best places to shop with a large number of independent retailers where people can buy specialist presents, so I would urge people to shop at the town’s independent shops this weekend.”

Derek Ashbee, shopping centre manager at Colchester’s Culver Square, said shop owners faced major competition from online retailers so it was vital retailers offered the best customer service this weekend.

He said: “It’s not been the best year for anybody and small independents have had to struggle a little bit longer than others.

“There are major issues with online shopping and larger retailers going into sales early. The public are becoming more savvy. It’s a very difficult time, so my message is shop locally and we may still be here next year.

“One thing we can do is sharpen up on customer service and demonstrate what others can’t. I think that will help retailers.

“It’s been a late start but the town is full of people today so I think tomorrow and Sunday are going to be amazing.”

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