VAT's out of Mind as Bargain Fever Drives Sales Stampede; FOOT FALL ROSE BY UP TO 20% IN CITIES AND TOWNS IN WALES

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SALES bargains rather than fears over the VAT rise fuelled a busy post-Christmas period at Welsh shopping centres, retailers claimed yesterday.

With price increases due to the VAT rise from 17.5% to 20% likely to be staggered, shopping centre managers said it probably had little impact on people's shopping decisions.

Andrew Stephens, manager of St Elli Shopping Centre, in Llanelli, said: "I don't think the VAT rise at the moment is affecting anything. Stores that have sales have prices that are lower than December.

"There are stores that aren't going to put up the VAT until new stock comes in. It will be interesting to see how it pans out over the next few weeks."

Centre director for Cardiff's Queens Arcade, Nick Beckett, said: "Following the disruption experienced by Cardiff shoppers in the crucial pre-Christmas week, when Queens Arcade experienced an increase in footfall of 0.9% despite the weather, Queens Arcade enjoyed amassive increase in footfall of 19.9% over the post-Christmas period in 2009."

James Redford, operations manager at John Lewis, Cardiff, said that while sales in the week following Christmas were 11% downon the previous year, it was also a day shorter because the shop was closed on New Year's Day, and many days had been busier than the year before.

He said: "It was a very busy weekend for us. I don't really think the VAT rise had anything to do with that."

Mr Redford said while the company had seen an increase in sales of big-ticket items such as TVs over the weekend, only a fewpeople mentioned the VAT rise as a reason for buying.

He added that the company's Never Knowingly Undersold policy meant it would not put prices up until its competitors did, possibly holding off passing on the VAT increase for some time.

Steven Madeley, centre dir-ector for St David's, Cardiff, said: "As New Year'sDay was on a Saturday it created a Bank Holiday weekend with an extra day off on the Monday.

"This changed consumers' mentality and they felt they had longer to shop throughout the long weekend before going back to work. Because of this, footfall within St David's was high and stores experienced strong sales figures."

He said stores had also seen some larger purchases brought forward, with jewellery retailers particularly strong performers.

Kevin Critchley, centre manager at Eagles Meadow inWrexham, said the week following Christmas had seen 20% higher footfall than a normal week and was around 10% busier than their previous busiest week during October half term, though it quietened down over the weekend because of New Year's Day.

He said he thought people were more likely to be out taking advantage of the offers in stores than trying to beat the VAT rise.

"They were queuing at 3. …