Shoppers from overseas with a penchant for luxury goods helped to fuel a Boxing Day sales bonanza as millions hit the stores, leading experts to suggest that reports about the death of the high street have been premature.
Retail analysts said wealthy tourists from China and the Middle East were spending four or five times as much as their British counterparts on items such as jewellery, watches and designer handbags. There were claims that shoppers were on course to spend a record £3.74bn in the Boxing Day sales.
Selfridges said it had enjoyed its most successful ever first hour of trading, taking more than £2m from 9am-10am. There were nearly 4,000 people snaking around the outside of the department store even before it opened its doors.
Harrods saw one of its biggest queues, which stretched around the corner of the Knightsbridge shop. The department store expects more than a million customers to come through its doors during its four-week winter sale.
“The West End is a huge draw, so we see a lot of international shoppers here,” said Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company, which represents retailers in and around Oxford Street. “About 50% of our shoppers are tourists, particularly from China, the Middle East and the US, and they probably spend about four or five times the amount of a UK shopper.”
Some retailers have been hiring Mandarin speakers, targeting hotels and tailoring their products to meet the growing demand. “We are seeing more Chinese people here than ever before, which is good news for our retailers, and they are spending a healthy amount of money, which is good for our stores,” said Tyrrell. “We have seen the rise of the Chinese in the last couple of years. They are now our third largest shopper – international – and they will be number one in a couple of years.”
The huge crowds were not to everyone’s liking. “This is really a madhouse compared with the US,” said Sally Erwin, an American shopper at Selfridges. “I don’t think we have this at all. We have queues and everything, but we don’t have it like this – it is kind of mobbish.”
Daniel Graham, from Australia, was also shopping at Selfridges. “It’s a bit chaotic, there are a lot of people, a few fights,” he said. “This lady was trying to push in, and this person wasn’t taking it, so they got security.”
There are also reports of brisk trading in other parts of Britain. More than 20,000 shoppers descended on the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield, where some had queued from 2am to get their hands on a discount. St David’s shopping centre in Cardiff also reported large crowds.
More than three-quarters of yesterday’s sales were made in stores. But internet shoppers were also keeping busy. Online shoppers are estimated to have spent £856m, up 22% on last year’s £699m, according to data firm Experian and online retailing trade association IMRG.
John Lewis said its online sale had got off to a “strong start” after launching on Christmas Eve at 5pm. In its first hour of online trading sales were up 17.7% on last year, with the Apple sports watch, goose-down pillows and KitchenAid mixers among its most popular sellers. “The sales are gift-driven,” said Mark Felix, director for online trade at John Lewis. “KitchenAid is part of the nation’s love of Bake Off.”
Felix added that while shoppers were increasingly going online to pick up a bargain, he did not think the internet would displace the high street. “I don’t think you’ll see that this year. We know the shops are really important to our customers.”Yesterday’s bumper sales were consistent with encouraging figures in the build-up to Christmas Day.
“Store trading has finished with a final flourish this year,” said Tim Denison, director of retail intelligence at Ipsos Retail Performance. “Granted, numbers were down on Christmas Eve last year, but that came as no surprise given the extra trading day before Christmas.
There was no last-minute panic, but people were eager to explore what final bargain gifts they could pick up in store prior to the day.”
Denison added that the increased number of shoppers entering Britain’s stores over the festive period could mean that overall consumer spending figures eclipse those of 2014.
“If this proves to be the case, it will mark a significant chapter in UK retailing history, whereby talk of the death of the physical store will finally be expunged.”