Belfast Telegraph

Retailers warn of Boxing Day sales damp squib

By Claire McNeilly

Boxing Day might not be the bumper day on the high street that it once was, according to retail experts.

Shoppers have finally made it into the shops after a lacklustre year, but retailers fear the vital Christmas season still hangs in the balance.

Footfall is certainly up in town centres, supermarkets and retail parks compared to the same time last year, according to figures provided by the British Retail Consortium (BRC).

But analysts are saying that the burst of spending in the week leading up to today will not compensate for a year of tightened purse-strings.

Donald McFetridge, a University of Ulster retail analyst, said he believes that the Boxing Day and January sales are now a thing of the past.

“I think Boxing Day will turn out to be a bit of a damp squib if I’m honest,” said Mr McFetridge.

“The pre-Christmas discounting frenzy means that people have already bought everything they want.

“We were seeing discounts of up to 75% in some shops, so it’s hard to see why the majority of consumers would have held off buying.”

Mr McFetridge also said that the plight of retailers will not have been helped by Christmas falling on a Sunday.

“The run up to the festive season was difficult, but people had six days to shop at the end meaning that Boxing Day will not be the big draw that it has been in previous years,” he said. “But when you compare the clement weather this year to the horrific snow last year, consumers might just be tempted to hit the shops.”

Many struggling retailers rely on December’s sales to see them through the rest of the year.

HMV, which is battling to stay afloat, traditionally makes its entire profit in December.

Judith McKenna, chairwoman of the Confederation of British Industry’s distributive trades panel, said traders were preparing for the worst.

“Early discounting helped retailers add a little extra sparkle to their sales in December, although the reprieve appears only to be temporary as they don’t expect sales to continue to grow in January.”

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) found that shopper numbers were up sharply in the final week before Christmas.

That was mostly because of the lucrative bargains on offer in the shops, where discounts of between 30-75% were commonplace.

But shoppers today may well be able to snatch even better deals as retailers attempt to boost their profits in this all-important period.

NIRC spokeswoman Sarah Cordey said: “Consumers and retailers are playing chicken with each other to see who will cave in first.”

Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA) chief executive Glyn Roberts said it has been a tough time for small traders.

”At this stage it’s a case of so far so good, but I don’t think anyone is expecting a rush today,” Mr Roberts said.

“Boxing Day and the January sales don’t have the same impact as they once had because sales are starting earlier and earlier.”

Meanwhile, a retail group has forecast that more than £365m will be spent online today by UK consumers.

The e-retailing group Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) also said people will have spent £186.4m online on Christmas Day.

Factfile

This year 29% of Northern Ireland sales shoppers have said they will not impulse buy, according to new |research by TK Maxx. It also found that the top 10 items on consumers’ hit lists at this time are: work clothes, |fashion items, underwear, household appliances, kitchen utensils, homeware, electrical goods, quality clothes, party outfits and presents.

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