Christmas Eve and Christmas Day saw year-on-year increases of 86% and 71% respectively in the number of visits to online retailers, but this dropped to just 17% on Boxing Day.
Customers were becoming savvier in their tactics and hunting out the bargains earlier than ever online, analysts said.
Britons still made a record 113 million visits to retail sites on Boxing Day, making it the busiest online shopping day in UK history, but after predictions of 126 million the performance was described as “slightly muted and not as prolific as forecast”.
James Murray, digital insight manager at Experian, said: “The UK ‘sales creep’ continues to advance so that now the post-Christmas sales are starting before Christmas.
“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.”
The crowds were even bigger in the West End of London, where an estimated 800,000 shoppers – buoyed by an influx of high-spending Chinese shoppers – joined the hunt for bargains in famous stores such as Harrods, Selfridges and Liberty. More than 2,500 people queued round the block to be first into Selfridges on Oxford Street, which was offering discounts of up to 75% on designer labels such as Alexander McQueen, Prada, Céline and Yves Saint Laurent. In the first hour of trading, sales had reached £1.5m, putting Selfridges on course for record takings at its four UK stores. The New West End Company, which represents retailers in the major shopping district, predicted £50m would be taken over the course of the day.
With its “never knowingly undersold” policy, John Lewis is forced to cut prices to match deals in competitors’ stores, but Street suggested there had been less discounting before Christmas: “Never knowingly undersold always costs us but I can say categorically it has not cost us more this year. Our discounting is in response to others so I think there was less.”
With the internet casting a bigger and bigger shadow over the high street, retailers are reporting huge increases in online sales this year as widespread ownership of tablets and smartphones changes the way Britons shop. John Lewis said that in the weeks before Christmas a third of its sales were logged via its website while on Christmas Day the number of visitors increased 24%.
Jeremy Fennell, the head of e-commerce at Currys and PC World, also reported a huge spike in traffic, with a 50% increase in visitors to its websites on Christmas Day (although shopping peaked between 7pm and 8pm suggesting Britons logged off to enjoy the EastEnders and Downton Abbey Christmas specials). “We are seeing more customers hitting our sites to take advantage of the top sale offers. However, we still expect high footfall in stores from Boxing Day onwards,” said Fennell.
New Year Sales
While thousands of shoppers queued outside stores up and down the country to get ahead of the game, millions more made the most of tumbling prices from the comfort of their own homes.
Fears of consumers tightening their belts in the face of tough economic conditions were quickly shelved, with an estimated 10 million shoppers believed to have spent about £2.9bn.
Britons spent 14 million hours trawling websites yesterday, paying around 113 million visits to online retailers on what became the UK’s biggest day for internet shopping, analysts said.
Web sales were up by 17% on Boxing Day last year, according to market data firm Experian.
Figures were slightly lower than the 126 million online visits predicted for Boxing Day, something experts attributed to a “sales creep” which saw retailers begin to slash prices before Christmas.
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.