Bargain-hunters drove record sales this Christmas with both John Lewis and Selfridges reporting record figures and high streets claiming increases of up to 50% in the number of Boxing Day shoppers.
Selfridges took a record £1.5 million within an hour of opening its doors yesterday while John Lewis said it was a “record Christmas” with the start of its online sale seeing more shoppers than ever before on its website.
Boxing Day saw the number of shoppers on the High Street surge by 50% in Northampton and Cambridge (SES: E1:J91U.SI - news) compared with last year, with an average 20% increase across the country, analysts Springboard said.
Consumers also made 84 million visits to online sales on Christmas Eve and 107 million visits on Christmas Day, up 86% and 71% respectively year on year, as this Christmas looks set to be the biggest yet online, analysts Experian (LSE: EXPN.L - news) and IMRG said.
More than £1 billion will have been spent online since Christmas Eve with yesterday expected to see another 126 million online visits from shoppers searching the sales, they said.
As the online shopping hit fever pitch, the Selfridges website appeared to crash under the demand yesterday before it was swiftly back up and running with a tweeted apology to one visitor for the “interruption to your Christmas shopping”.
Richard Dodd, of the British Retail Consortium, said: “It’s been a strong start both online and in stores.
“We’ve had more retailers starting their sales in stores on Boxing Day this year than we’ve ever had before, which is a reflection of the difficult times.
“Retailers need to be open and making attractive offers that appeal to customers on the days when customers are most available to go shopping.”
The record sales came as high street stores offered up to 75% off some of the most desirable products, generating interest and excitement among consumers and helping to turn “stock into cash”, keeping the pre-Christmas momentum going, he added.
Mr Dodd said the record sales will be a "relief for retailers, particularly those who are looking to make up the business they didn’t do in the run-up to Christmas", but he warned the effect “will tail off pretty rapidly” as consumers return to work in the new year.
“We all know that customers are still in a difficult place, they’re still seeing their own incomes under real pressure and still generally reluctant to make major spending commitments.”
Britons also turned to their new tablets and mobile devices, with John Lewis reporting online traffic from tablets rising by a quarter from 28% to 35% between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, with the number of orders from tablets doubling since last year.
Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis, said: “It’s been a record Christmas for John Lewis, and that’s been between shops and online.
“Customers are using the two absolutely hand-in-glove. We saw it played out this year the retailers with the best integration between shops and online have done the best.”
Speaking ahead of its clearance sale starting on the high street today (Dec 27), Mr Street said: “Going into clearance, we’re expecting that momentum to continue.
“History tends to say that in the tougher economic times, the sales period will be particularly intense, that’s why I’m very optimistic.”
He added “classic home purchases” fuelled sales online with Egyptian cotton sheets and pillowcases, washing machines and luxury towels among the most popular purchases.
The first hour of its sale, between 5pm and 6pm on Christmas Eve, saw the retailer’s busiest ever hour online, with orders up 70% on last year. Christmas Day then saw online visitor numbers rise by 24% with sales up 40% compared with last year.
And sales in the run-up to Christmas also broke records, up by more than a quarter on last year to £157.8 million the first time a week’s sales have broken the £150 million barrier, the retailer said.
In London's West End, footfall rose by a third as people queued overnight in preparation for the Boxing Day bonanza which was expected to see around 800,000 shoppers spending £50 million, the equivalent of around £62.50 each.
Around 3,000 shoppers poured in to Selfridges as its tills rang in £1.5 million in the first hour of trading, its most successful ever first hour of trade.
The flagship Oxford Street store expected to welcome 250,000 customers yesterday alone, more than six times the number seen on a typical trading day.
And at its Birmingham store, security guards stepped in to calm over-eager bargain hunters who made a dash for discounted luxury goods including handbags and cosmetics.
Sue West, Selfridges’ director of operations, said handbags and menswear were flying off the shelves.
“Of the people queuing to get inside 60% or 70% were men,” she said.
“It's a great day for men's shopping. It's a tradition and people want to experience it.
“Online sales for us have been great but year on year people still want to experience the Boxing Day sales.”
As shoppers targeted the bargains, a half-price Chloe ‘Paraty’ cross body leather bag for £510 and a Tom Ford jacket reduced from £2,350 to £1,410 were among the first items to be snapped up.
Jace Tyrrell, director of the New West End Company which represents stores in Oxford, Bond and Regent Street, said: “This is one of the strongest trading days of the year in terms of sales.
“Chinese shoppers are the top spenders across all three streets.”
Wealthy tourists are expected to drive record sales, with Middle Eastern, Chinese and Nigerian tourists predicted to be the strongest growth nationalities, attracted by the mixture of flagship stores, designer and luxury brands offering savings of up to 75%.
Elsewhere, Manchester's Trafford Centre drafted in the police to help manage the crowds as more than 20,000 shoppers arrived by 8am, Gordon McKinnon, the centre’s director of operations, said.
Darren Pearce, director of Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, said Boxing Day saw a “record number of shoppers seeking to get their hands on the best post-Christmas bargains”.
Robert Goodman, general manager of Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre, added it was one of the busiest starts ever to the sales.
And Tim Walley, general manager of Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre, said more than 200,000 shoppers came through the door yesterday (Dec 26) with a further 150,000 expected today.
Security staff at the centre’s Next (Other OTC: NXGPF - news) megastore issued tickets to each person in the queue before the 6am opening before allowed allowing customers to enter one at a time in single file.
Diane Wehrle, research director of Springboard, said: “During a tough domestic retail climate, many shoppers are still looking for the best bargains, and despite sales starting earlier, UK consumers are still attracted by the annual Boxing Day sales.”
It also emerged that Asda has nearly sold out of one million ‘onesies’, typically worn when lounging around at home, after customers bought six times as many as last year.
Several celebrities, including Joey Essex from reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, have been seen in the all-in-one outfits and even Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was given a “very remarkable James Bond-style Union Jack onesie” ahead of the Olympics
Asda dismissed suggestions the popularity of onesies would be short-lived, saying it had “big plans for onesies” next year.