Suffolk and Essex: Sales surge ahead of increase in VAT

SHOPPERS were out in force on the last Bank Holiday of the Christmas/New Year break in an attempt to find bargains before today’s VAT increase.

The VAT rate went up from 17.5% to 20% at midnight in a move that Labour claim will cost the average family �7.50 a week.

Retailers will be monitoring sales over the next few weeks to see if the rise has had any impact.

In Ipswich, retailers have enjoyed a reasonably promising Christmas period despite the cold weather in the run-up to the holiday.

And their sense of optimism has carried over into the sale period.


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Paul Clement, executive director of Ipswich Central, said: “We are currently awaiting the overall final trading figures for the town centre for the festive period but it would appear that the post-Christmas sales have been very popular in Ipswich and trade has been good.

“However, all retailers are cautious about the VAT rise and the effect it will have on consumer confidence which seems to have been returning to the high street.”

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Yesterday the streets of the town were busy – although the sales were expected to continue for another 10 days and many retailers are expected to absorb the VAT increase until they re-price goods in the spring.

In Sudbury, Richard Blatch, of Winch and Blatch, said hats, scarves and woolly socks had been selling extremely well this winter.

“We found that the severely cold weather did dampen sales a little but then those who specifically wanted to shop clearly braved the elements and got to the shop,” he said. “We did not open on Sunday as we wanted to give our staff a day off and today has been relatively quiet in the town as a whole. But we have noticed that menswear is selling particularly well in the sales so far.”

He added that there had not been a noticeable change in shopping habits ahead of today’s VAT rise but with the store’s sale continuing until the end of the month they would have a clearer picture of any changes to shopping habits.

Peter Kelley, a salesman at Allegro Music in St Botolph’s Street, Colchester, added: “Over Christmas it’s hard to tell if the VAT increase has made a difference but today we have certainly had more business, especially on the bigger items. It’s a significant amount on an item like a thousand-pound piano. People have been very keen to do the deal today or at least order.”

Andy Woolf, manager of Colchester Cycles, said up to ten people had said they were buying earlier than they might otherwise have done, because of the VAT increase.

However, he added: “Bikes are not a massive trade so the VAT increase is not going to make a massive difference – not as much as cars for example.

“I would not have thought we’ll be hit when the VAT increase does come in, it’s only a handful of people who have realised they can save some money.”

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