Boxing Day sales: Shoppers flock to stores
Shoppers have flocked to stores across the UK for the Boxing Day sales.
Thousands of bargain-hunters queued overnight at shopping centres, as shops began cutting prices and opening as early as 06:00 GMT to tempt customers.
A survey suggested shoppers will spend almost £3bn in the one day.
Shoppers resisted the lure of buying online to hit the pavement. Many stores reported their busiest ever day. In London's West End the numbers were up by a third, despite a Tube strike.
Nonetheless, market analyst Experian says online spending is also expected to be the "biggest and busiest ever", accounting for almost £500m on Boxing Day.
Price comparison website MoneySupermarket.com said shoppers were planning to spend a total of £2.9bn in the Boxing Day sales, according to a survey that it had conducted.Tube strike
End Quote Helen Dickinson Director general of the British Retail Consortium
There is only so much cost-cutting and new efficiency retailers can achieve”
London's main West End shopping district, including Oxford Street, were packed, with shoppers.
Footfall by mid-morning was reported to be up by 31% from a year ago, according to retailer association the New West End Company, with foreign buyers - particularly the Chinese - dominating trade.
Tube drivers chose Boxing Day strike to go on strike for the third year in a row - although extra buses are being provided to the West End and the Westfield shopping centres in Stratford and White City.
Meanwhile, the A40 in London was closed both ways at Greenford for planned roadworks.
At Burberry, which began its winter sale before Christmas, staff at the luxury fashion retailer's new flagship store on Regent Street said it was the busiest day they had known, after what had been a quiet run-up to Christmas.
Other central London luxury retailers were kept busy, with a long queue at lunchtime outside the Vivienne Westwood boutique.Queuing around the block
Thousands of people gathered from shortly after midnight at major shopping centres around the country, such as Westfield in London, Bluewater in Kent and Birmingham's Bullring, where Debenhams, Selfridges and Next were offering discounts of up to 50%.
Next was reported by BBC readers to be overwhelmed by demand at some of its branches in the London suburbs. In Kingston-upon-Thames, queues were seen tailing around the block just after the clothing store opened at 06:00 GMT.
In Leeds, Dean Stratton, manager of the White Rose Shopping Centre, told the BBC they were experiencing a very busy Christmas and Boxing Day.
"We've had a couple of records," he said. "Christmas week was our busiest single week ever for footfall and Christmas Eve was the biggest we've had here."
Other shopping centres were also claiming record numbers of visitors, including the St David's centre in Cardiff.
However, Mr Stratton conceded it was too early to say whether the bigger crowds in shops had actually spent more than last year.
The Furniture Village chain - which, as a vendor of big-ticket durable goods, is particularly sensitive to consumer frugality - reported almost a thousand transactions at its 40 stores by mid-afternoon on Boxing Day, putting it on course to beat the 1,200 sales it closed on the same day in 2011.Business failures
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said Christmas spending in shops this year was "acceptable but not exceptional".
"Christmas hasn't been a boom time for UK retailers, but it hasn't been complete doom and gloom either," said Helen Dickinson, the BRC's new director general.
She said spending by shoppers was likely to have increased in 2012 only broadly in line with rising prices, and there had been big variations in individual retail performances.
The BRC has said some High Street retailers would "undoubtedly" fail after Christmas.
"Sales were hard-fought and often driven by discounts, so cutting into margins," said Ms Dickinson.
The normal surge in pre-Christmas came late this year, partly due to shoppers holding back for a bargain, she said, and partly because many crammed their purchases into the weekend just before Christmas Eve, which fell on a Monday this year.
This year's pattern of a late pre-Christmas weekend rush to the shops was reflected in footfall data provided by analysts Experian.
The BRC director general said the outlook was not particularly encouraging: "The pressure is coming from adapting to conditions that consistently deliver minimal year-on-year sales growth.
"There is only so much cost-cutting and new efficiency retailers can achieve."
Further rises in utility bills in the New Year, as well as a focus by customers on repaying their debts, meant 2013 was likely to be characterised by "more of the same", she added.Online 'record-breaker'
Another factor hurting High Street retailers is the general shift to online sales.
Business recovery group Begbies Traynor has warned many shops faced the threat of closure as more customers turned to the internet.
Experian said visits to retail websites were expected to reach 126 million on Boxing Day, an increase of 31% on last year.
James Murray, from Experian, said: "Christmas 2012 is on track to be another record-breaker for online retail, outstripping 2011 on all fronts.
"The current market trends suggest that in the UK, Boxing Day will be the biggest day for online retail, with an estimated 126 million visits to online retail outlets and a massive 17 million hours spent online shopping on this day alone."
Amazon UK said it had seen sales on Christmas Day increase by 263% over the last five years.
This was partly due to the growth in home broadband and the popularity of tablets and smartphones.
MoneySupermarket.com's survey found four million people plan to head to the stores, while five million will shop online.
However, the BRC took a more sanguine view: "There are a lot of myths around online retail," said BRC spokesman Richard Dodd,
"Ten per cent of overall retailing over the year comes from online shopping and actually it presents lots of opportunities for the retail sector."