Stores braced for last-minute gift spree

By Mark Heath, Liz Hearnshaw, Jenni Dixon and Jessica TylerCHRISTMAS shoppers across the region have left it later than ever to buy their presents - leading to a consumer frenzy over the past few days.

By Mark Heath, Liz Hearnshaw, Jenni Dixon and Jessica Tyler

CHRISTMAS shoppers across the region have left it later than ever to buy their presents - leading to a consumer frenzy over the past few days.

National figures showed four out of 10 people will be hitting the shops today to buy Christmas gifts, spending £2.29billion, and East Anglia is no different.

Paul Clement, of the Ipswich Partnership, said: “I think Ipswich is the same as most other places around the country in that the Christmas spend has come very late.

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“It's been a nerve-wracking time for retailers. We promoted the town harder than ever before with the biggest marketing campaign Ipswich has ever seen.

“It seems now to be proving that more regional spending is coming into Ipswich than ever, but it is coming very late.”

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The tardiness of shoppers was seen at the Tower Ramparts shopping centre in Ipswich, which is now having up to 40,000 people a day coming through its doors.

Mike Sorhaindo, centre manager, said: “There was a little bit of a delay in Christmas coming around, but then Sunday was a really good day for us and that seems to have signalled to everybody that there's only a few days left.

“I think the traditional days of people going out in October and doing their Christmas shopping are long gone - shoppers will wait now until retailers drop their prices and then they hunt around for bargains.”

It was a similar story at the Buttermarket shopping centre in Ipswich, although manager Colin Roberts said trade was “busy, but not buzzing”.

He added: “It's certainly not going to be a record-breaking Christmas for us. November was very difficult and then December started off a little bit flat, but it's picked up over the last 10 days.

“People have left it late this year - there's no doubt about that. There's definitely a last-minute rush today.”

In Bury St Edmunds, shoppers were also keeping a careful reign on the purse strings, with spending slow throughout November.

Chrissy Harrod, manager of the Cornhill Walk shopping centre, predicted big bargains available in the New Year and was hoping they would encourage more spending.

“We had a pretty poor November and it seems as though we mirrored what was going on across the country,” she said.

“People's shopping patterns have changed with a lot more using the Internet to miss the crowds and the queues. It has been a tough old year all round.

“But in December, things certainly picked up, although it has still been sporadic. I would think we will either match or slightly beat last year as there has been a surge during the last week.

“A lot of stores have already gone into sale and have got special offers on to encourage a few more people out - and everybody is saying there will be a lot of bargains around in the January sales.”

The trend was the same in Essex, where many stores were looking forward to even better things in the New Year.

Mike Lowe, manager of the Lion Walk shopping centre in Colchester, said: “The trade in late November and early December was quite slow, but has picked up nearer Christmas.

“The next few days will probably be quiet, but we expect better results nearer the New Year because of the January sales and all the bargains that will be available.”

A spokeswoman for the Colchester and East Essex Co-operative Society added: “It has been getting busier over the past few days as people have been shopping madly after leaving it until the last minute.

“There has definitely been an increase in trade over the Christmas period, especially the last few days.”

Malcolm Tilsed, manager of the Meadows shopping centre in Chelmsford, said: “The trade in November was strong, but there is evidence the customers are waiting for the sales, which officially start on December 27.

“However, stores with dipping sales have already started theirs early, so there are some bargains to be had before Christmas.”

The Black Olive delicatessen in Southwold has been in business less than a week, but owners, Sarah Honeywood and Daniel Smith, have been pleased with the pre-Christmas rush.

Southwold-based brewery Adnams has also been doing a roaring trade in wine, beer and food from its Cellar and Kitchen Store.

Rupert Farquharson, general manager of Adnams Wines, said: “Sales have been going extremely well and we have already achieved our budget.

“We are expecting a last-minute rush today and business between Christmas and New Year. Trade has been strong at the weekends, despite the filthy weather, and we're gearing up for a successful Christmas.”

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