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

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Shoppers at Boxing Day sales on Oxford Street, LondonImage source, EPA

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 UK High Street and shopping centre cameras, said average footfall for the day was 3.1% lower than in 2017.

It suggested 26 December was becoming less important as a trading day.

But there were still queues for some shops from as early as midnight and the data does not include online sales.

And retailers in London's West End declared a "Boxing Day bounce" saying there had been a 15% increase in footfall from last year.

Black Friday impact

Shoppers on London's Oxford Street told BBC News they braved the crowds to pick up a bargain and browse products in person rather than just buying them online.

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

Springboard said in recent years Boxing Day had consistently seen fewer shoppers than the Black Friday sales at the end of November. The number of shoppers in the morning was said to be more than 9% lower than Black Friday.

However, footfall does not include online sales, which made up 21% of retail sales in November, according to the Office for National Statistics.


Image source, AFP
Image caption,
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.

Retailers in London's West End expect to see 500,000 shoppers over the day and £50m in sales.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
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: "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.

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."

Image source, Matthew Horwood
Image caption,
Early morning queues in Cardiff stretched down Queen Street
Image source, PA
Image caption,
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.

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.

Stuart McClure, of price and discount tracking website, said that online, some retailers had kept discounts running from Black Friday right up until Christmas and increasing numbers were starting their Boxing Day sales early.

"The reductions have also been deeper. Right now the average discount online stands at 43% - this is the highest it's ever been on Boxing Day," he said.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
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.

Stuart Rose, the former M&S boss who now chairs online supermarket Ocado, told BBC Radio 4's PM programme the "pace of change" in UK retailing in the last year had been extraordinary.

He said local authorities, governments, landlords and retailers had to work together to make British high streets a "more exciting and interesting place".