Boxing Day sales: Footfall down for third year, analysts say

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The number of people heading to the Boxing Day sales has fallen for the third year running despite some heavy discounting, retail analysts have said.

Springboard, which examines information from High Street and shopping centre cameras, found UK average footfall up to mid-day was 4.2% lower than in 2017.

It suggested Boxing Day was becoming less important as a trading day.

But in London retailers declared a “Boxing Day bounce” after seeing a 15% increase in footfall.

Some stores were offering discounts of as much as 70% after slow sales up to Christmas.

Springboard said that Boxing Day has consistently seen fewer shoppers than Black Friday in recent years.

Boxing Day is still seen as the most popular day for shopping in the Christmas period, with three in 10 people expected to head to the sales, according to Barclaycard.


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Bargain-hunters raced into Selfridges in London as the doors were opened

By Joe Miller, BBC business correspondent

Black Friday has been taking the wind out of Boxing Day sales for a few years now, and retailers have been forced to slash prices even further during the festive period.

While this is good news for shoppers, analysts are concerned that struggling chains, with warehouses full of stock to shift, are now engaged in a race to the bottom, just when they need to be increasing profits.

What’s worse is that there is no sign of a spending splurge on the horizon. Even online giants such as Asos have had a hard time of it lately, as household debt is growing, and people have less disposable income altogether.

One place that seems to be bucking the trend – at least today – is the West End in London. That’s driven, at least in part, by lots of visitors from overseas, hoping to take advantage of the weak pound.

But across the country as a whole there are only a few days left to make up for a miserable year.

Some shops opened at 06:00 GMT, with queues of the keenest bargain-hunters having formed at 02:00.

By 10:30, retailers in London’s West End reported a 15% rise in footfall.

Over the course of the day, they expected to see 500,000 shoppers and £50 million in sales.

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Shoppers queued up in Princes Street, Edinburgh

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, representing businesses in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said some stores were offering discounts of up to 70% to clear stock before the year’s end.

“International tourists are out in force driven by the weaker pound, as well as domestic shoppers who are looking for a day out after family celebrations yesterday,” he said.

“We’re on track for £50m spend today, which will rise to a total figure of £2.5bn for the critical Christmas trading period. It has been a competitive and challenging year for UK retail with rising costs and squeezed profit margins.”

Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer for Europe at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which owns the Westfield shopping centres, said: “Boxing Day is always one of our peak trading days and has got off to a very busy start with over 50,000 people through doors by 10am.”

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Matthew Horwood

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Early morning queues in Cardiff stretched down Queen Street

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Customers hunted for the best bargains in Next, Edinburgh

The so-called “Super Saturday” before Christmas had failed to deliver the boost that retailers hoped for, with just a 1% increase in footfall.

Retail analysts had been predicting bigger than usual Boxing Day discounts as shops tried to entice consumers back to the High Street.

Management consultancy Deloitte said it expected average discounts of 52% from retailers seeking to offload unwanted stock.

But many stores had already begun discounting before Christmas, with the rise of Black Friday stretching the sales into November.

Online retailer Asos blamed “unprecedented” discounting for damaging November trading, which it said would lead to weak profit for the full year.

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Some bargain-hunters queued overnight outside Selfridges in central London

Brands including Primark, Ted Baker and John Lewis also warned of a slump in sales, while Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser, said it was the “worst November in living memory”.

Increased shopping online is thought to be one culprit: November in-store sales fell 2.6% compared with last year, while online sales rose by 18.2%, according to research by accountants and business advisers BDO.

But last-minute Christmas sales showed some signs of improvement. Ipsos Retail Performance said visits to non-food stores were up by 27.4% on Christmas Eve compared with 2017.