Oxford St crowds thwart the bargain hunters

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It took only five minutes for Selina Jeremiah, a teacher from south London, to nail her prize after the doors swung open and the crowd surged through – a washing machine and tumble dryer were hers for a big markdown.

John Lewis opened its doors to bargain hunters, offering up to half off big-ticket electrical items.

However, like many who queued at the shop on London’s Oxford Street, Ms Jeremiah seemed indifferent to the impending 2.5 percentage points rise in VAT – a sentiment nervous retailers will hope is widely shared by shoppers in the new year.

“It’s only going up to what it was before, so it makes no difference,” Ms Jeremiah said.

The parents of Sally Halls, a 29-year-old design manager from London, had beseeched her to grab a fridge freezer and a washing machine before the VAT rise. But she too was unimpressed: “Actually, the difference is only about £10, so I’m not motivated by it.”

Geoff Brett, 27, shopping for appliances for his new home, seemed unaffected by the sales hype: “It just so happens that the buying of the property fell at the same time of year. We’d be willing to pay full price.”

The main obstacle to nabbing a coveted purchase was the sheer number of shoppers.

To cope with the rush, John Lewis allowed customers to choose a maximum of three items displayed on cardboard tickets hung on a wall, which they were expected to take straight to tills. But mayhem ensued as baffled shoppers called on sales assistants to explain.

Hasan Siddiqi, a civil servant from Harlesden, said he was “quite confused” by the ticket system and that “there will be a lot of disillusioned customers” as a result.

Sarah Anker, a 27-year old personal assistant, arrived in Oxford Street at 10am on Boxing day – but by two o’clock she had given up.

“I was going to get a Gucci bag, but it turns out I can’t even get into Gucci because of the queues,” she said.

“I couldn’t even get near the sale rails,” agreed Amy Harrison, a 26-year old charity worker hunting for discounts in Topshop.

Other shoppers were oblivious to the crowds and to the recession.

Nishma Randelia, a 31-year-old pharmacist, had travelled to Selfridges in London from Kent on Boxing day.

“I’ve been saving all year and I’m not really thinking about crowds or the recession,” she said.

“So I’m sure the wait will be worth it.”

Others simply came for something to do after being forced to stay inside by the weather and compulsory festivities.

At Westfield, London’s largest shopping centre, 61-year-old office manager Sandra Reynolds said: “I’ve been indoors for two days and I wanted to get out for the day.”

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