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Suffolk: Traders in county admit fears over the danger posed by online shopping and out of town centres after mixed Christmas

PUBLISHED: 12:33 14 January 2014 | UPDATED: 12:33 14 January 2014

Sales in Ipswich town centre

Sales in Ipswich town centre

High street retailers across Suffolk and Essex have admitted to having a mixed Christmas – with some bucking the national trend and seeing a rise in footfall and others warning against the dangers of online shopping and retail parks.

A survey carried out by the EADT shows that while some town centres – including Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds – painted a largely positive picture, others were not so optimistic as more consumers turned to computers and out-of-town developments.

It comes as research released today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) shows the high street shopping rush thinned out nationally, with footfall in December dropped 3.7% compared with 2012.

Retail giants such as Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Morrisons have also reported poor trading figures for the festive season.

But Paul Clement, chief executive of Ipswich Central, said the town had a hugely successful festive season, with sales up by just over 2%.

Meanwhile, Colin Roberts, manager of the Arc shopping centre in Bury St Edmunds, said annual like-for-like footfall in November and December was up 3.3%, equating to an additional 130,000 shoppers.

“We are very confident all our retailers will survive this year,” he said.

Michael Grist, store manager of family-run department store Barretts of Woodbridge, said profits rose from last year as a burgeoning housing market boosted sales.

But he urged people to shop local to prevent “US-style shopping malls” from replacing high street retailers struggling under “crippling” business rates.

“Out-of-town developers have low business rates and free parking,” he said.

“For every £10 spent in town centres between £5 and £7 stays in the local economy. For out-of-town it is five pence. People must use their high streets or lose them.”

Johnny Gooderham, managing director of Snape Maltings, said October-December sales were up 3.25% on last year.

“It reflects the growing confidence of the economy,” he said.

John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said early feedback suggested “Christmas was a positive time” for “sales and confidence”. “There are lots of indicators to encourage us going in to 2014,” he added.

But elsewhere traders conceded they will have to become more creative and adapt to the dramatic changes taking place in the behaviour of consumers.

Judith Blatch, merchandise director at department store Winch & Blatch in Sudbury, admitted the convenience of online shopping is threatening the annual dash to the high street.

“We cannot turn our backs to the internet,” she said. “We have to accept more people are shopping online and embrace the technology, like click-and-collect and websites which promote brands.”

However she said she still had “faith in the high street” despite reporting a “mixed” Christmas.

“People still like going out shopping as an experience,” she said. “It’s much easier to pick up bargains than online.

“But people were canny this year. They were price-conscious and started looking for bargains earlier.”

Jim Charmer, owner of Pipps Too, a vintage furniture and clothing store in Needham Market’s high street, said annual profits and footfall were a “little bit down”.

He said the town centre was “quieter than last year” and admitted independent retailers are “under pressure”.

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