Retailers expect bumper day after restricted Boxing Day sales

Retailers in Norwich are bracing themselves for a busy day after Sunday trading legislation appeared to take their toll on the annual Boxing Day rush.

Although traders reported an increase in footfall, most are predicting heavier crowds today after many of the city's flagship stores chose not to welcome customers yesterday and opening hours were restricted to six hours.

John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Next and Jarrold department store were some of the big names who decided to keep their doors closed until this morning.

Sheridan Smith, marketing manager at Chapelfield Shopping Centre, said all its stores including House of Fraser were open yesterday, although they could only welcome customers from 11am to 5pm. The Mall was open from 10.30am to 4.30pm.

She said trading had been 'very busy' but the atmosphere seemed less 'frantic' then previous Boxing Days

'Our car park was full by 11.30am and we started trading at 11am. There were crowds in the centre before we opened anxious to bag the first of the bargains. The atmosphere in the centre is really good today – it doesn't really feel like frantic sales shopping. People are enjoying themselves, they are sitting down for coffees, so the cafes and restaurants are doing a brisk trade as well,' she said.

She added that it was difficult to pinpoint whether the imminent increase in VAT from 17.5pc to 20pc, which comes into effect on January 4, had played a part in bringing bargain hunters to the centre.

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A survey by the British Retail Consortium, published yesterday, said retailers expect sales to worsen in 2011 due to VAT rise coupled with Government cuts and the wider economy.

'It's very hard tell. It's a busy day but it's on a par with other Boxing Days. The crowds are more compacted because of trading legislation,' she said.

Paul Dodd, owner of independent clothing stores Blue Jean Company and Elements, in Lower Goat Lane, which have slashed their prices by 50pc and 40pc respectively, said only a very small handful of retailers in the Norwich Lanes had opened with some customers commenting that the city centre seemed quieter than expected.

On the closure of the larger stores, he said: 'It's working for us and against us. No-one is open down here so it doesn't have a big draw but because we are one of the only ones we have had people at the tills all day so I'm happy.

'It will be mad tomorrow. It's always our busiest week of the year anyway.'

Great Yarmouth's biggest department store Palmers also did not open until today.

But that did not prevent a sizeable Boxing Day crowd of shoppers hunting for bargains in the town centre.

Patrick Taylor, manager of Debenhams, in Market Gates, said: 'Although we could not serve people until 10am we opened the doors at 9am for an hour of browsing. When 10am arrived we had queues at the tills and I would definitely describe it as a brisk start. Hour by hour we are ahead of last year.'

He said fragrances - many reduced to half price - were a big sales hit and customers were also snapping up cut-price coats.

Chelsea Wilkes, a supervisor at the neighbouring New Look store, reported queues outside the door when they opened at 10am and said: 'Stock is going very well.'

Meanwhile King's Lynn town centre was almost deserted by lunchtime, despite some retailers offering discounts of up to 80pc.

Many shops did not open, including most of the town's supermarkets.