Retailers saw a quieter than expected start to the post-Christmas sales as footfall declined, according to a snapshot of high street and shopping centre visits across the country.
Footfall up to 5pm on Boxing Day was down 4.5% on the same period last year, according to monitoring service Springboard.
However bargain-hunters were still out in force in some places, with queues forming outside Selfridges in central London from 2.30am while intu, the owner of some of Britain’s biggest shopping centres, reported a big rise in footfall.
The wider drop in shopping trips to physical stores comes as consumers increasingly turn online for their purchases.
November’s Black Friday event has also been blamed for bringing forward store discounting from the traditional Boxing Day period.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said: “We did anticipate a drop in footfall on Boxing Day this year, but the scale of the drop is greater than expected.
“Given that last year footfall declined by 1.4% up to 5pm, but dropped by 2.3% over the 24 hour period as a whole, we are now expecting footfall to decline by more than 4% compared with last year over the day as a whole.
“The drop in footfall – the fifth out of the past six years – reinforces the lessening of the importance of Boxing Day as a key trading day in the retail calendar”.
The Springboard figures showed a 5.8% decline for high street shopping visits, a 4% downturn for shopping centres and a 2% drop at out of town locations.
Online sales fared better and some shoppers were already spending on Christmas Day itself, with sales on 25 December up 5% on last year according to ecommerce trends experts PCA Predict.
They were forecast to be up 6.2% for Boxing Day.
Currys PC World said more than a quarter of a million customers logged on in one hour on Tuesday morning, with 63% using phones to place orders.
Selfridges said that after three hours trading on Boxing Day from 9am it had registered £4m in sales at its London, Birmingham and Manchester stores and online and it was expecting a record-breaking day.
Barclaycard has predicted that 34% of Britons will go to the festive sales, up from 23% last year.
It found that after months of “feeling the squeeze” amid rising inflation and weak pay growth, many consumers were looking forward to taking advantage of discounts.
Intu, owner of shopping centres including Gateshead’s Metrocentre, Manchester’s Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Essex, reported an 8.5% rise in footfall by mid-afternoon.
Gordon McKinnon, operations director at intu, said: “We are buzzing with activity.”