Boxing Day sees record shoppers

Tuesday, 29 December 2009
A record number of consumers hit the shops on Boxing day and spending continued on Sunday as shoppers sought to shrug off the recession and snap up bargains. A combination of Boxing day falling on a Saturday, prompting far more retailers than usual to open their doors, the impending value added tax rise and limited discounting in the run-up to Christmas spurred shoppers on to the high street.

The total number of shoppers was up 18.6 per cent compared with Boxing day 2008 – a record, according to retail analysts Experian. “It has been a very strong start to the post-Christmas sales,” said the British Retail Consortium, adding that stores opening their doors on Sunday would “continue the momentum”.

Business at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent on Sunday was even busier than on a usual Saturday, according to Tim Hollands, property manager at the centre. About 125,000 people visited on Boxing day, with 150,000 expected on Sunday.

However, bargains were harder to find than during the frenzied discounting that preceded last year’s sales with non-food retailers much better prepared for tough trading conditions this Christmas than they were in 2008, when the economy lurched downwards and they were left with excess stock to shift.

“We are not having the 80 per cent [discounts] we had last year,” said Mr Hollands. The average markdown this year is about 50 per cent. The strong start to the post-Christmas sales will add to retailers’ expectations that a tough 2008 is behind them, as consumer spending has held up much better this year than anticipated.

“Despite the last-minute hurdle thrown at shoppers by the weather, it’s been a healthier retail Christmas than last year,” said Stephen Robertson, the BRC’s director-general. Store groups are braced for a difficult year ahead, however, with the impending VAT increase, other tax rises, cuts to public sector spending and a general election looming.

The BRC said that although retailers expected 2010 to be no worse than 2009, they “overwhelmingly believe 2010 will continue to be tough”. “Factors such as weak consumer demand and rising unemployment are at the heart of retailers’ concerns about how the recovery will pan out,” Mr Robertson said. “The inevitable tax rises will mean people have less to spend and retailers will have to work even harder to win the battle for hard-pressed customers.”

However, there were few signs of gloom on the high street this weekend. Although John Lewis officially started its sale on Sunday, its store in the Trafford Centre in Manchester opened on Boxing day. Sales were up 11 per cent compared with the first day of its clearance sale last year, the store said, while clearance sales online were up 23 per cent on last year since they began at 6pm on Christmas eve.

The New West End Company, which represents retailers in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said sales in London’s West End were close to £60m on Boxing day.

Image: Holiday sales

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