ICY weather and money worries were not enough to put off North East shoppers from spending at Christmas as local retailers bucked the national trend of a sales slowdown.
The region’s shopping centres welcomed bigger crowds this year than last and some retailers saw bumper sales, although full figures on how much was spent have not yet been released.
Newcastle‘s Eldon Square saw a 17% increase in visitors in December and a 20% jump in footfall in the week before Christmas Day. The Bridges shopping centre in Sunderland celebrated a 3.5% rise in like-for-like footfall to 2.1 million customers.
Eldon Square also received a 25% increase in visitors during the first week following Christmas Day, while the sales period at The Bridges also got of to a good start, with footfall up 5.8%.
Centre managers said the VAT increase from 17.5% to 20% on January 4 may have helped to bring a strong start to the January sales.
Eldon Square general manager Phil Steele said: “Eldon Square has done exceptionally well considering that many people found it difficult to get to the shops because of the snow.
“The centre has seen some massive changes last year, including the opening of the St Andrew’s Way extension, which allowed us to really improve our offer over the Christmas period.
“It is also clear many shoppers put off hitting the high street until the last minute because of the snow.
“I also believe that many shoppers were aware that VAT was to increase and were picking up a number of big ticket items before the price increase.” But Andy Bradley, centre director at The Bridges, believes the increases may have more to do with the positive attitude of North East shoppers.
He said: “I think it is typical of the people of the North East that they have not let the hardships they face get in the way of having a good Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Gateshead Metrocentre saw its overall year-on-year footfall increase in December by over 3%, but saw a 1.3% fall in visitors in the week before Christmas as many shoppers found it too treacherous to drive there.
General manager Tim Lamb said it still saw a rise in visitors and had seen a 4.1% sales rise in the week after Boxing Day.
One of the first retailers to celebrate bumper sales is department store chain John Lewis, which has shrugged off the impact of Britain’s freezing weather by revealing a 7.6% hike in festive sales and notching up sales of £545m in the five weeks to January 1.
The success was shared by its flagship Eldon Square store, which recorded its best ever week in the last full week before Christmas, with like-for-like sales up 5.5%. Sales in the first five days of the sales period were up 7.6% with particularly strong sales of white goods, televisions and computers ahead of the increase in VAT.
Newcastle’s business improvement district company NE1 said footfall in Newcastle was up 16.55% in the week starting December 27.
It said its Alive After Five campaign, which encouraged shops to open until 8pm and more free parking had helped.
NE1 chief executive Sean Bullick said: “There’s a lot of talk about difficult times but it certainly seems the city has done well. People are coming from across the region and outside the region. “
Debbie Anderson, manager of Sanderson Arcade in Morpeth, said: “The week leading up to Christmas was exceptional in terms of footfall and customer spend.”
However, some of the first retailers to report sales figures were less optimistic. HMV Group said yesterday it will shut 60 stores after a 13.6% drop in sales in the last five weeks of 2010 and Next said the snow had cost it £22m in lost revenues.