BELEAGUERED retailers will be hoping that bargain-hunters will be out in force today for the start of the Boxing Day sales.
For a growing number of online shoppers, the sales started early, with Amazon UK predicting that yesterday would be its busiest Christmas Day to date.
The online retailer launched its Boxing Day deals yesterday, which include clearance offers and “lightning deals” for a limited time and quantity of stock.
Trends seen on past Christmas Days on Amazon include an 11am rush for last-minute gift cards, the spending of gift cards at midday and sofa-surfing at 8:15pm.
Amazon’s vice-president of EU retail, Xavier Garambois, said: “The digital revolution has certainly played a part in this growth and Christmas Day is our biggest day of the year for MP3 and Kindle book downloads, as many people are buying content for the new devices they have just received.”
However, with household spending squeezed and many shops discounting goods before Christmas, there are fears the tills may not be ringing as vigorously this year.
Figures from MoneySupermarket.com suggest 8 per cent of people in the UK plan to hit the shops today – while 10 per cent will be shopping online.
Estimates suggest £2.9 billion will be spent on Boxing Day alone, giving a much-needed boost to the retail industry.
Debenhams chief executive Michael Sharp said: “This year we’re offering shoppers our biggest ever half-price sale.”
Most of those who plan to hit the high street today will be looking for clothes, with 65 per cent saying finding something to wear would be top of their list. About a third (34 per cent) said they would be looking to pick up discounted electrical goods, while just under a third (30 per cent) hoped to snap up computer games, DVDs, books, CDs and music downloads. Almost one in five (16 per cent) said they would be looking for cut-price cosmetics.
Peter Beagley, general manager of Braehead Shopping Centre, Glasgow, said: “We’re prepared for a very busy Boxing Day and it looks like being an early start for the army of bargain-hunters we’re expecting .
“Although normal trading doesn’t start until 10am, we’ll be opening the centre before the sun rises. Doors will open at 6am, and if the weather is bad we’ll let in early-bird shoppers.”
But with sales down in December, analysts warn shoppers will not be tempted to spend unless discounts are generous.
David McCorquodale, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: “I have no doubt there will be pent-up demand for big-ticket items. However, the lack of cash and consumer confidence – and also the lack of new house sales – may mean these items will yet again be deferred.
“However, at the end of what has been a tough year, there may well be a little bit of ‘comfort spending’ to give oneself a treat to finish the year … but only if the retailer discounts enough.”
The latest Markit survey of household spending reports 32 per cent of households felt their finances had deteriorated since November, while only 6 per cent reported an improvement. Consumer confidence had also fallen, as had job security.
Report author Tim Moore, senior economist at Markit, said: “The vast majority of households anticipate that their financial wellbeing will either worsen or stagnate next year.”
Dr Howard Archer, chief economist at Global Insight, said: “The renewed weakening in household finances in December could not come at a worse time for retailers, and it highlights why many people appear to have been careful in their Christmas shopping this year and the battle that retailers have had to generate decent sales.
“For those retailers that have lifted their sales late on due to increased discounting and promotions, a key question is just how big a hit have their margins taken?”