Bargain hunters queued before dawn for the Boxing Day sales but the number of in-store shoppers fell across the UK for the third year in a row.
While December 26 remains a popular shopping day, UK average footfall in high streets, retail parks and shopping centres for the period up to 4pm was 3.1% lower than for the same hours on Boxing Day 2017, retail intelligence specialists Springboard said.
This is a more modest drop than the 5.5% fall seen between 2016 and 2017 and on par with the drop of 3.3% between 2015 and 2016.
Springboard said footfall in high streets declined by 1.1%, which is a much better result than last year and in 2016 (6.6% in 2017 and 2.8% in 2016).
The experts said this is likely to be due to the wider variety of restaurants and coffee shops in high streets than those generally located in shopping centres.
Shopping centre footfall up to 4pm was down 5% on last year, and out of town footfall at retail parks was down 5.3%.
The analysts said a decline in footfall on Boxing Day on three consecutive years indicates the lessening in importance of the holiday as a trading day.
Springboard said: “Across the UK footfall did vary, with footfall actually rising in a number of areas; Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Greater London.
“In all other parts of the UK footfall declined from last year, with a particularly large drop in the South East of minus 12%.
“This may well be due to the proximity to the South East of Greater London, and many shoppers taking the decision to visit the West End of London as a Christmas treat rather than shopping destinations closer to home.”
Shoppers queued outside stores around the country before first light, and people were pictured inside with armfuls of half price clothes.
Chris Daly, chief executive at the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said: “The quiet high streets across the country confirm that the days of setting the alarm to be first in line for the Boxing Day sales are long gone.”
Despite footfall being down overall around the UK, Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, representing businesses in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said: “In London’s West End we have seen a Boxing Day bounce, with footfall up 15% this morning.
“International tourists are out in force driven by the weaker pound, as well as domestic shoppers who are looking for a day out after family celebrations yesterday.”
High street retailers had already cut prices after trading on the busiest shopping day of the year, dubbed “Super Saturday”, failed to lure shoppers to stores.
It has been a torrid year for retailers with notable high street names such as Poundworld and Maplin falling into administration, Marks & Spencer and Debenhams announcing plans to shutter stores, while Superdry, Carpetright and Card Factory issued profit warnings.
High street retailers have been battling higher costs, low consumer confidence as shoppers rein in spending amid Brexit uncertainty and people increasingly shop online rather than visit bricks-and-mortar stores.
Don Williams, retail partner at KPMG in the UK, said: “With this year’s Black Friday being a bit of a damp squib, many could be forgiven for hoping that would have benefited post-Christmas sales, including Boxing Day.
“But, for the vast majority, that is unlikely. Most will still have their work cut out to persuade shoppers who have notably been clawing back their spend.
“But for those retailers stocking must-have brands, there is still plenty to play for in the final festive push.”
Michael Ward, Harrods managing director, said: “Shoppers arrived from 7am, and were queuing on all sides of the building.
“When we opened our doors at 10am, it took 20 minutes for all of the queuing shoppers to enter the store – which gives you an idea of the scale of this event. This is broadly in line with numbers we saw visiting last year.”
Myf Ryan, chief marketing officer Europe and group director of brand and strategic marketing for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, which owns the Westfield London and Stratford City shopping centres, said: “Footfall across both our London destinations has been extremely strong, with double-digit year-on-year growth, and we’ve enjoyed our busiest-ever period since Black Friday, with 8.5 million visitors to the centres.
“Some retailers in our centres have enjoyed their best-ever weekend since opening, others have had to do emergency restocking due to selling out and some have reported over £1m turnover over the weekend alone.
“Boxing Day is always one of our peak trading days and has got off to a very busy start with almost 150,000 people through doors by 1.30pm.”