Thousands on High Street bargain hunt

LORNA MARSH Boxing Day shoppers turned out in force in Norfolk today to snap up the first of the post-Christmas bargains.Less than 48 hours after the last-minute spending spree on Christmas Eve, many leading High Street chains had already put up the sales signs and slashed prices.

LORNA MARSH

Boxing Day shoppers turned out in force in Norfolk today to snap up the first of the post-Christmas bargains.

Less than 48 hours after the last-minute spending spree on Christmas Eve, many leading High Street chains had already put up the sales signs and slashed prices.

And with experts predicting that the next few days will be a key time for retailers as they try and make up for a lacklustre performance earlier this month, local shopping centres reported brisk trade - and tomorrow is expected to be even busier.

Streets that had been deserted only 24 hours previously, while families tucked into their Christmas dinners, were teeming as thousands of bargain hunters descended on Norwich.

Despite some major retailers such as Jarrold, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer not open until tomorrow, the city was packed with shoppers hoping to bag cut-price goods.

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House of Fraser at Chapelfield greeted about 500 shoppers when it opened its doors at 10am, its first year of Boxing Day trading, and manager Rob Barton said it had already hit its target by lunchtime.

“We have been extremely busy, it is much, much stronger than we thought it was going to be on Boxing Day because we did not trade last year,” he said. “Menswear has done particularly well and the rails at Hugo Boss, where there is 40pc off, are empty.

“It has been very successful and we are very pleased and I expect tomorrow will be just as busy.”

Steve Bunce, general manager at Chapelfield, which was open from 10am to 6pm said the mall overall had seen good trade.

BHS, Waterstone's and Castle Mall said the tills had been ringing steadily but they were expecting the real frenzy to start tomorrow.

Steve Donoghue, operations director at Aldiss, said while the store might not have the bargains offered last year, like the £4000 leather sofas reduced to £99 that saw shoppers queuing on Christmas Day, it offered the best range for some years.

“There has been very good customer flow all day, there are lots of people shopping,” he said.

Next is due to start trading at 5am tomorrow for its big annual sale with up to 70pc off selected fashions and homewares and the Castle Mall car park is set to open at 4.30am to help cope with the demand.

Martin Macwhinnie, general manager of Castle Mall, which was open from 10am to 5pm, said sales were steady but he expected to be much busier tomorrow.

“Nationally Boxing Day is becoming more accepted as a trading day. This is only the second year we have opened so I think it will take a while longer to establish itself.”

Although some stores in King's Lynn's shopping centre remained closed today, car parks were filling up by midday and the streets were filled with shoppers, many laden with bags of purchases.

Around 40-50 people were queueing outside the town's branch of Debenhams when the store opened at 8am.

Half-price vacuum cleaners had sold out by 9am and manager Steve Young said the menswear and ladies fashion departments had also been doing well.

“It's been very busy,” he said. “I think people always do hold back for the January sale.”

More than 50 bargain-hunters had waited for the sale at BHS in Lynn to get underway.

Manager Sara Warburton-Whitehead said there were half-price offers across the store and all departments were busy.

“We haven't opened on Boxing Day before so it was a bit of an unknown quantity but we are much busier than we anticipated,” she said.

Elsewhere, some businesses were resisting the urge to cash in on the post-Christmas bonanza.

In Halesworth, Bungay and Beccles, most shops - including supermarkets, were shut.

And it was a similar story on the coast, where even the homegrown department stores, Chadds in Lowestoft and Palmers in Yarmouth, were closed.

Natasha Burton, analyst at retail market monitors Footfall, said now is “a very important time” for traders, following a survey which showed that the number of High Street visits made by Christmas Eve shoppers fell by more than 40pc, compared with the same day last year.

“The key thing will be how they make these sales stand out to attract people in,” she said.

According to a new study by banking giant HSBC, four out of five people will find themselves bargain-hunting in the winter sales.

Mike Oliver, head of current accounts, said: “As a nation we've got wise to the fact we can get what we want for Christmas at a better price in the sales and it is clear from our research that people are delaying their spending until after Christmas and into January.”