Boxing Day sales record 'lower than expected'

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Boxing Day set a new British record for online shopping, but the 20 per cent rise in visits to retailers’ websites was lower than expected, analysts said today.

Christmas 2012 was the biggest ever online for retailers and should finish with 30 per cent more visits to sites than last year, Experian (Other OTC: EXPGF - news) predicted.

But yesterday's 113 million visits to retail sites was lower than the 126 million predicted, with the early start of online sales boosting web traffic on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but detracting from Boxing Day’s figures.

The warning comes after bargain-hunters drove record sales both online and in stores this Christmas with both John Lewis and Selfridges reporting record figures and high streets claiming increases of up to 50 per cent in the number of Boxing Day shoppers.

James Murray, digital insight manager at Experian, said: “Boxing Day set a new British record for online shopping with 113 million visits going to retail websites in a single day.

“However, with a number of the major retailers bringing their sales forward to Christmas Eve, the impact of that was that Boxing Day was slightly muted and not as prolific as we forecast.”

Christmas Eve, traditionally one of the poorest performing days of December for online retailers, saw 84 million visits this year, up 86 per cent on last year, he added.

“The UK ‘sales creep’ continues to advance so that now the post-Christmas sales are starting before Christmas," Mr Murray said.

“Five years ago we called it the January sales, before it became the Boxing Day sales, now retailers have to call it the winter sales as discounting starts earlier to encourage higher spending. “

Consumers were also becoming savvier in their tactics and looking online to research the best bargains before heading to the high street, he added.

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 per cent increase across the country, analysts Springboard 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 per cent 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.”

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.