Poll: It’s been a ‘positive’ Christmas for retailers, but have you spent more this festive season?

Christmas shoppers in Ipswich town centre.

Christmas shoppers in Ipswich town centre. - Credit: Archant

As retailers brace themselves for their most important weekend of the year, there is growing confidence that 2013 will bring real festive cheer to our high streets. But have you spent more on the festivities this year?

In Ipswich the organisation representing town centre businesses believes it will be the best Christmas since 2007 – and the confidence is spreading throughout the region.

The ‘shop local’ message seems to have hit home with people choosing to buy their presents closer to home and avoiding long trips to the shops.

Firm figures for the Christmas shopping season will not be calculated until early next year – but Paul Clement of Ipswich Central said retailers had told him there was a very different feel on the high street this year.

He said: “They are saying this has been the best Christmas for spending for five or six years. People have been shopping earlier and not waiting for shops to introduce last-minute bargains to shift their stock just before Christmas.

“This year Christmas falls well for retailers – there is a full weekend and then a day-and-a-half for last-minute shopping, but overall it has been very good for sales.”

Ipswich’s John Lewis at home superstore is seeing a rise in sales compared with last Christmas – when it still had the “novelty factor” having only opened its doors at the end of November 2012.

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Ipswich branch manager Anna Moir said: “This is our second Christmas at John Lewis at home Ipswich and we’ve built on last year. For retailers, Christmas is not just about great products but also creating the right atmosphere.”

Independent businesses in east Suffolk have reported strong sales in the lead up to Christmas with expectations high for the remaining days to come.

Chris Harrold, chairman of Choose Woodbridge, said the regular Christmas street fair on the first Sunday in December and the launch of “Festive Fridays” had helped draw more visitors.

“It’s been the first time we’ve done it and I’m pleased we have,” he said.

“Woodbridge, historically, has not had much of a Christmas atmosphere but this year we’ve made a really big effort and those businesses that have taken part have really benefitted.”

The Festive Friday events, launched this year to support late night shopping in the town, have seen special performances take place in the afternoon and early evening to provide extra incentive for visitors.

Aldeburgh Business Association (ABA) has praised its members’ hard work in encouraging people to shop local during the festive period with events such the town’s Independents Day and its Christmas lights celebrations welcomed as a major success.

ABA project coordinator, Annette Mason-Gordon, also said the launch of the Aldeburgh and Thorpeness our towns supplement in the EADT had been “incredibly well received” and given businesses a platform to promote themselves.

John Simpson of Alde River Ltd was expecting the next few days to build upon his positive season so far.

“I’ve been pleased with trade in the run-up to Christmas, mainly through loyal local shoppers and weekend visitors to the town but I expect thing to get even busier when people arrive in Aldeburgh for the Christmas period buying their last minute top up presents,” he said.

Clothing retailer James Stacey, owner of O&C Butcher Outfitters and Ltd and Fleur in Aldeburgh, confirmed that his sales had been “strong” throughout the festive period.

Market towns in the west of the county have reportedly been “buzzing” in the lead up to Christmas.

Traders and business leaders are urging people to head to town over the weekend to take advantage of the wealth of independent shops, and to soak up the festive atmosphere.

Mark Cordell, chief executive of town centre improvement group ourburystedmunds, said the ambience of bustling town centres at Christmas was something that could never be replicated online.

He added: “Rather than waiting nervously at home to see if their internet delivery arrives on time, I would encourage people to pop into Bury St Edmunds over the next few days to pick up their last minute bargains.”

Meanwhile Sudbury Chamber of Commerce chairman Chris Storey said the town had been full of shoppers. He urged people to take advantage of the free three-hour parking, adding: “Sudbury’s shops still have plenty to offer and today is the ideal time to visit the town and finish off the Christmas shopping.”

Shoppers in north Essex have been urged to spend their money locally this weekend to help turn what has been a good Christmas for independent retailers into a great one.

Small shop owners are reporting a positive picture across the north of the county with good sales - but say the last few days before Christmas are a crucial time for them.

“Small retailers can generate up to a third of their income in the six weeks running up to Christmas,” said Iain Wicks, the Essex development manager for the Federation of Small businesses.

“And if they do well over these last few days, it can turn a good Christmas into a great one. It’s especially an important time for small food retailers because people leave it late to buy some foods and there is more of a focus on local food now than there has been in the past.”