The reduction from 17.5% to 15% was a designed to boost consumer spending and help stores suffering from the economic slowdown.

However, retailers claim that the move, which for some took days to implement, has done nothing but impose extra burdens on them.

Malcolm Crump, who runs a Spar store in Compton, Wolverhampton, said the cuts had not helped to boost sales. "This is yet another ill-thought out knee-jerk reaction by the government," he said. "All it has done is create a massive headache for small retailers like us. I was still trying to make the changes almost a week later, and not one of my customers has even noticed."

Di Bell, who owns Nettleton Stores and Post Office in Wiltshire, also said the exercise had wasted her time. "It's an extra pressure that small retailers really don't need just before Christmas," she said.

David Bridge of Here to Please You stores in Bolton, Lancashire, also slammed the move. "Who cares if a chocolate bar is 1p cheaper? The only people who will benefit from these reductions are the supermarkets, because they have the money to advertise them," he said.

David's views were echoed by Elaine Maxwell-Jones of Burgess Stores in Goudhurst, Kent. "We don't have an epos system so the re-pricing took a very long time and customers aren't seeing any major savings on their shopping," she said.