Stores hoping for late rush of shoppers

By Ted Jeory and James MortlockSHOPPING centre and store managers across East Anglia are hoping for a late rush of Christmas gift buying to boost their festive takings.

By Ted Jeory and James Mortlock

SHOPPING centre and store managers across East Anglia are hoping for a late rush of Christmas gift buying to boost their festive takings.

They have brought the traditional post-Christmas sales forward and have been tempting shoppers with bargains galore in an effort to boost trade, which they said had been hit by a combination of the weather and the Rugby World Cup.

The British Retail Consortium said stores were discounting goods early in a last-minute effort to attract customers.

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A spokeswoman added: "We have had a number of wet Saturdays, which have not helped, and there has also been the Rugby World Cup, which kept people away from the shops.

"Many shops are banking on it getting busy after December 19 when a lot of people who get paid before Christmas have that extra money."

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Bob Feltwell, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said: "I think because we have had a lot of good weather, people have forgotten Christmas is coming.

"I think shops have thought they need to stimulate shopping. It has been steady, but retailers look to this period as the primary part of their annual turnover – as much as 60% to 70%. Many have started their sales earlier than in previous years."

Two of Colchester's major stores said business was only now starting to pick up after a slow start because of the weather and other factors, including the postal strike.

Lorraine Barnett, sales and marketing director at Williams and Griffin, said: "I can honestly say that it is the latest Christmas ever for sales picking up.

"On the day of the Rugby World Cup Final, we suffered a dramatic drop-off in sales and we have also been hit by the post strike. A lot of our evening shopping invitations to people didn't arrive in time and so for the first time in our history we had a 10% off night on Wednesday.

"We also seem to have been hit by the weather – it's a funny feeling doing your Christmas shopping when it's reasonably warm for the time of year."

Nick Clarke, store manager at Debenhams, said: "I think it's pretty much the same story everywhere. The World Cup period was pretty bad, but we're motoring along in some areas now.

"Our gift department is well ahead of last year's figures, but clothing is probably down. The weather's just been too warm – retailers like a bit of cold weather to get people inside."

Allen Hassell, deputy manager at the Clacton Factory Shopping Village, which has about 50 retail outlets, said: "Fewer people are coming, but they are spending more. Our average spend per customer was up 11% last month compared to the same time last year, but our overall revenue was down.

"That's down to a number of reasons including the warmer weather, which hits us more in Clacton because we're by the coast. People seem to be spending more on gifts and less on themselves."

Chrissy Harrod, manager of the Cornhill Walk shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds and chairman of the town's chamber of commerce, said prices had already been slashed in most of the stores.

"We had a very quiet November, which I think was a hangover from the long hot summer. Now people are definitely out buying, but they are looking for bargains – they don't wait for the New Year sales," she added.

"Gone are the days when most people would get their Christmas shopping out of the way in October or November. Shoppers are very canny now and they're out for a bargain."

Paul Marchant, who runs the independent Marchants Cookware in St John's Street, Bury St Edmunds, said his Christmas trade was on a par with last year. "I think we're on target – it's as good as last year. We get people coming in from Essex and Norfolk as we have things no-one else does."

Rebecca Hulme-Edwardson, spokeswoman for Boots in Ipswich, said: "Customer traffic has been lower this year. It is a general high street thing. I think people are leaving their Christmas shopping later. The offers will definitely help to boost sales as they provide good value for money."

Jo Marino, a spokeswoman for the town's Waterstones store, added. She said: "Over the past few years, Christmas shopping is getting later and later. What we aim to do is to make sure there are value for money offers to bring in the customers."

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