Tuesday 27 December 2016

UK Shoppers Head Out In Their Millions To Boost Boxing Day Sales

Boxing Day

While many people were still sleeping off the extra calories – and alcohol – consumed on Christmas Day, millions of the nation’s hardcore shoppers had set their alarms, ready to be up and out to bag the biggest bargains on Boxing Day.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company, representing stores on Bond, Oxford and Regent streets, said average footfall was up 8% year-on-year at 11am, with turnover for the day expected to reach £55m. Chinese shoppers were giving the West End a boost, with luxury handbags among the most popular items.

At the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London, the most dedicated started queueing at 2am. By the time the doors opened at 5am hundreds of shoppers were ready to flood through the doors.

“It was chaos,” said one security guard. “They were pushing, complaining, arguing about little things like schoolkids. And for what? You’re going to get to Next, don’t worry.”

Syed Ali, 27, went straight to the shops with his wife and children after working a 24-hour shift in security. “It was a bit cold but what really annoyed me was people trying to push in the queue – people were jumping in, shouting at you. There is no need for that,” he said.

“To be honest we are just buying everything for the kids,” he said, piles of clothes around his feet. “That’s why I worked for the last 24 hours to make money to spend on them – if there is anything left, maybe then we’ll get something for ourselves.”

Next was, as always, one of the biggest draws for the early shoppers. Britain’s biggest clothing retailer is one of the few big chains not to slash prices before Christmas – although its sale did begin online at 3pm on 24 December.

Ling Lin, 29, did not let the fact that she was seven months pregnant prevent her getting among the crowds, and had spent about £1,300 by 8.30am. Her only concession to her condition seemed to be that she was willing to take a rest after filling seven large bags fit to burst. “But I think I have saved at least £1,000 in the Next sale,” she said. “I love it, I love shopping and I always do the sales – and I don’t know when I will be able to shop again for a while.”

While millions headed to the shops on Boxing Day, before Brexit-related price rises are expected to trickle down to the high street, retail experts warned that pre-Christmas discounting, online sales and the introduction of Black Friday could depress footfall.

Retailers have already struggled in 2016, according to retail analyst Richard Hyman. “It has been extraordinarily tough without any impact from Brexit at all. For the last two and a half years, we’ve had price deflation in virtually every sector,” he said. “In 2016, on average more than 60% of UK retailers have been on sale. I’ve never seen a market like this. Sales used to be used to clear stock. That’s a thing of the past. Now there is a permanent sale.”

The overall number of people who visit the shops in December has declined in six of the past seven consecutive years, according to retail analysts Springboard.

The chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, Helen Dickinson, said the fourth year of falling shop prices suggested shoppers would mean permanent competition between retailers.

“The outlook for 2017 is tough,” she said. “We have a triple whammy of cost pressures – inflation coming through, an unreformed business rate system, another year of uplift in the national living wage and apprenticeship levies – and all of these at the same time as a market that’s not growing very quickly.

“But we know they’re a resilient and enterprising bunch and there will be a lot of businesses that rise to the environment really well.”

Consumer and retail expert Kate Hardcastle said there had been a permanent shift in shopping habits. “This is the time of year where, after a good sales period, [retailers] normally slash the prices to encourage extra footfall and get rid of stock they don’t want, but that is no longer the case,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We’ve had the introduction of Black Friday … when you start discounting that early you set a pattern that the consumer desires. Add on to that the changes in how we shop now and the trends emerging from online shopping: the fact we can use devices like smartphones to access everything we want. There has very much been a changing face to the way we shop.”

However, no one seemed to have told the shoppers in Stratford. Westfield said more than 100,000 people came through the doors of its two giant shopping centres in London by 1pm on Boxing Day, with £500,000 spent every hour over the Christmas period.

Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer for Westfield UK and Europe, said: “For many shoppers, the annual Boxing Day sales continue to be an important date in the diary. Many people will have received spending money or gift cards for Christmas, and use Boxing Day as an opportunity to treat themselves, as well as spending time with family and friends.”

Boxing Day was still the most popular post-Christmas shopping day among UK consumers, according to Dom Joseph, chief executive of advertising technology company Captify. A record £984m is expected to be spent online on Boxing Day, up from the £805m spent on Christmas Day.

Angela Jordan, 51, had decided to cover all the bases, and do her shopping online and in store. “I’ve already bought everything I wanted online – so what am I doing here?” she asked. “It’s a bit sad, but I sneaked away yesterday and did most of it then.”

Ozay Kirik, who was waiting for designer clothing store Choice to open, said he wanted to be able to try things on. “It’s different, there’s more of an atmosphere,” he said. “Maybe I can do my shopping at home in bed, but I can’t feel it, I can’t try it on. It’s less hassle to come here than get it sent and then send it back because it doesn’t fit.”

As the queues started to grow and lines into the most popular shops started operating a holding policy one family had taken time out to eat the breakfast they had brought with them.

Alpana Jain and her 13-year-old son, Kshitij, had come from Delhi to visit family and try out the Boxing Day sales for the first time. “It’s very different,” she said. “In Delhi sales are a lot more relaxed and last longer.”

Her son-in-law, Rajat Gupta, laughed and added: “To be honest I just don’t think people are crazy enough in Delhi to start queuing at five in the morning.”

*** The Guardian



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