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'Eager' bargain-hunters hit sales

British retailers are predicting a strong showing from bargain-hunters today, after what was described as a "pleasantly robust" start to the post-Christmas sales on Boxing Day.

Jace Tyrrell, deputy CEO of the New West End Company, which represents more than 600 retailers across London's West End, said Oxford Street was lined with "eager" bargain-hunters this morning. Hundreds of people queued outside John Lewis, which saved its clearance for today.

With revellers rested after Christmas, and no sporting matches vying for shoppers' attention, Mr Tyrrell said he expects the sales this weekend to outperform yesterday's showing.

"It was a good Boxing Day, but I think today and tomorrow will be even stronger," he said. "We've had a lot of international visitors - I'd say three quarters of the street crowds were overseas tourists."

He said visitors from China, the Middle East and northern Africa - especially Nigeria - were splashing out on luxury items in the big department stores.

Fashion items, handbags and jewellery offer the best bargains, he added.

Shopping centre bosses in Bristol also predicted a busy Saturday.

Stephanie Lacey, centre director at Cabot Circus, said: "Today could be even busier than Boxing Day as our stores are open for longer, giving customers more time to visit.

"Footfall and sales have been rising consistently since the end of November and we're expecting the centre to be busy until the New Year. We could see over 100,000 customers at Cabot Circus today."

Meanwhile, in Cardiff sales were expected to top £3 million.

Steven Madeley, centre director at the St David's shopping centre, added: "Today will be as busy as Boxing Day as all of our retailers go into sale and the centre opens later.

"We are expecting over 200,000 shoppers spending around £3 million, with customers treating themselves in the sales and spending gift cards received as presents.

"Footfall has been up every week at St David's since the end of November, and we could break sales records this year."

Experian spokesman Nick Jones said the online figures were promising.

Figures out this morning confirmed a big jump in online spending on Christmas Day compared with last year, he said, with Experian Hitwise analytics recording 147 million visits to retail websites on the 25th, up from 110 million on Christmas Day 2013.

"It's a big increase on last year," he said.

"Retailers have been getting better at connecting with their customers and people are shopping online as a leisure activity."

He said he expects that uptick to continue over the clearance sales period, but he believes many consumers will favour online over bricks-and-mortar shops in the coming days.

"The shopping season now starts with Black Friday promotions and then online is ruling the roost right through to the middle of December, when footfall picks up again. Then after Christmas, people are getting back on their smartphones," Mr Jones said.

But global footfall analyst Ipsos Retail Performance (IRP) said the number of shoppers pounding pavements on Boxing Day was still stronger than many expected.

The analyst's Retail Traffic Index - the company's national barometer of retail footfall - was down 4.7% for the day compared to 2013, Ipsos said.

Stores on high streets and retail parks suffered the most, with traffic levels down 7.1% and 7.2% respectively.

Outlet centres had 4.3% fewer shoppers, while town centre malls and regional shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Meadowhall, fared the best. There, numbers were down 1.9% and 2.9% respectively, IRP said.

"Last year, Christmas Day started sapping the pull of Boxing Day as retailers experimented with launching sales on-line on the 25th, which proved amazing popular," IRP director of retail intelligence Tim Denison said.

"M ore have elected to adopt this tactic this year, so nobody expected record numbers in stores yesterday. In fact, from our perspective, the figures achieved yesterday were pleasantly robust.

"Today, though, which has emerged as the busiest trading day of the year in recent times, is the one that everybody is interested in.

"We fully expect December 27th to retain its number one position ... The strength of trading today will give clear guidance on whether the likes of Black Friday adversely pulled forward bargain shopping, or whether shoppers still have appetite for more."

Diane Wehrle, the retail insights director at Springboard, said this morning's foot traffic between 9am and midday was down compared with December 27 last year.

"Compared to last year across the UK as a whole, footfall is down by 3.2%," Ms Wehrle said.

"But compared to yesterday, footfall is up by 14.6%."

Shopping centres and retail parks were doing best, she said, while high street crowds tended to be smaller.

She some of today's foot traffic could be down to "click-and-collect" shoppers - customers dropping by stores to collect the purchases they made online yesterday, or on Christmas Day.

Others might have got their shopping out of the way even earlier, she said: "Black Friday clearly had an influence; I think a lot of people bought a lot of what they wanted to buy at the Black Friday sales."

Shopping centre Bluewater said a strong Boxing Day showing helped it set a new sales record for the year.

Bluewater general manager Robert Goodman said: "Boxing Day at Bluewater was extremely successful with footfall up 11% on last year helping us to achieve a new all-time record year of sales.

"With John Lewis going into sale today, we are expecting this weekend to be the strongest performing of the year with guests taking advantage of wonderful offers from Bluewater's stellar line-up of leading UK and international brands and then making a real day of it."

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