Shoppers defy winter weather

The busy Bridges shopping centre

The busy Bridges shopping centre

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SHOPPERS defied the snow to give the Bridges a merry Christmas and very happy New Year.

While retail sales nationwide put in their worst performance for eight months in December after snowy weather and money worries caused shoppers to cut back on buying Christmas presents, there was no sign of a downturn on Wearside.

While it is too early for sales figures, footfall in the centre was up 5.8 per cent year-on-year between Christmas Eve and December 28, while the number of people passing through the doors on Christmas Eve was eight per cent higher than last year.

“I think that is a testament to the people of the North East, who will do anything to make sure Christmas is not spoiled,” said manager Andy Bradley.

The heavy snowfall had been a mixed blessing, keeping people away from the shops initially but later driving them back to the high street as it became increasingly clear goods ordered online might not arrive in time for the big day.

“Our car parks were seriously affected,” said Andy.

“At one point I had them distributing grit by hand in case we ran out, but the car park numbers were actually up, which is fantastic.”

The trend continued into the new year, with household names such as Maplins, Starbucks and Pandora all reporting brisk business during the early sales period.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents shops nationwide, said December’s arctic weather conditions and ongoing economic blues had taken their toll.

Director general Stephen Robertson said “a combination of weather and worries” led shoppers to cut back on presents.

He added: “With mounting concerns about the impact of spending cuts and the wider economy, sales growth has been weak since last summer.

“December was always likely to be similarly unspectacular but the snow and ice dealt an extra blow to business for many retailers.”

Online sales gained early in the month as housebound shoppers turned to the web but the increase in sales was more than outweighed later in the month when orders fell off as customers became worried about receiving deliveries in time for Christmas.

The snowy weather helped boost sales of soup, casseroles, tea, coffee and hot chocolate as well as traditional treats such as champagne.

Strong demand for snow boots and wellies helped increase sales of footwear, while clothing sales were flat despite selling more coats and cold weather gear.

But sales of furniture, homewares and DIY goods were all down as consumers kept a tight grasp on their purse-strings.