Bargain hunters out in force early but number of in-store shoppers falls

Bargain hunters queued before dawn for the Boxing Day sales but the number of in-store shoppers fell around the UK for the third year in a row.

While December 26 remains a popular shopping day, UK average footfall for the period up to midday was 4.2% lower than for the same hours on Boxing Day 2017, retail intelligence specialists Springboard said.

This is a smaller drop than the 5.6% in 2017 from 2016, but a greater drop than on Boxing Day in 2016 when footfall declined by 2.8% from 2015.

Boxing Day sales
Shoppers on Oxford Street in London (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Springboard said a decline in footfall on Boxing Day on three consecutive years indicates the lessening in importance of Boxing Day as a trading day.

Footfall up to midday is 10% lower than on Saturday December 22, which was the peak trading day before Christmas this year, and 9.4% lower than on Black Friday.

Over the last few years, footfall on Boxing Day has consistently been about 10% lower than on Black Friday.

The analysts said that over the last few years about a third of all footfall for the day was generated by midday, and so a drop in 4.2% suggests that footfall across the day as a whole will be lower than last year.

Boxing Day sales
Shoppers at the Next store on Princes Street, Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)

Springboard said: “Part of the reason for the drop in footfall is the almost continuous discounting that has been taking place by retailers this year – particularly over the period from Black Friday onwards – which negates the reason to defer purchases to Boxing Day, although clearly this is an opportunity for consumers to pick up items at an even lower price than before Christmas.

“However, many retailers offer greater discounts online than in store, which discourages shoppers to visit retail destinations and bricks and mortar stores.”

Shoppers queued outside stores around the country before first light, and people were pictured inside with armfuls of half price clothes.

Boxing Day sales
Shoppers at Selfridges on Oxford Street, London (Isabel Infantes/PA)

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, representing businesses in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said: “In London’s West End we have seen a Boxing Day bounce, with footfall up 15% this morning.

“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.

“We’re on track for a £50 million spend today, which will rise to a total figure of £2.5 billion for the critical Christmas trading period.

“It has been a competitive and challenging year for UK retail with rising costs and squeezed profit margins. As the largest private sector employer in the country, we need the Government to get beyond Brexit and support Britain’s retail sector in 2019.”

Boxing Day sales
Shoppers enjoy live entertainment at Harrods as they queue outside the store in Knightsbridge (Matt Alexander/PA)

High street retailers had already cut prices after trading on the busiest shopping day of the year, dubbed “Super Saturday”, failed to lure shoppers to stores.

It has been a torrid year for retailers with notable high street names such as Poundworld and Maplin falling into administration, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams announcing plans to shutter stores, while Superdry, Carpetright and Card Factory issued profit warnings.

High street retailers have been battling higher costs, low consumer confidence as shoppers rein in spending amid Brexit uncertainty and people increasingly shop online rather than visit bricks-and-mortar stores.

Boxing Day sales
Shoppers queue along Princes Street, Edinburgh, waiting for stores to open (Jane Barlow/PA)

Don Williams, retail partner at KPMG in the UK, said: “With this year’s Black Friday being a bit of a damp squib, many could be forgiven for hoping that would have benefited post-Christmas sales, including Boxing Day.

“But, for the vast majority, that is unlikely. Most will still have their work cut out to persuade shoppers who have notably been clawing back their spend.

“But for those retailers stocking must-have brands, there is still plenty to play for in the final festive push.”

Michael Ward, Harrods managing director, said: “Shoppers arrived from 7am, and were queuing on all sides of the building.

“When we opened our doors at 10am, it took 20 minutes for all of the queuing shoppers to enter the store – which gives you an idea of the scale of this event. This is broadly in line with numbers we saw visiting last year.”

Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer Europe and group director of brand and strategic marketing for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which owns the Westfield London and Stratford City 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 this morning.”

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