Northern Ireland shops hoping for Boxing Day sales revival
But expert says online offers hitting high street
Retailers in Northern Ireland will be hoping for a Boxing Day sales bonanza - but experts believe the chances of that happening are slim.
Traditionally, December 26 was a big day for post-Christmas shoppers but last year, for the first time, there was a significant drop in the number of people hitting the stores.
A massive surge in online sales, an ongoing hangover from Black Friday and general sales apathy, all took their toll.
Meanwhile, the higher cost of living, uncertainty over Brexit and bad weather have contributed to a drop in festive spending this year, so shops began slashing prices early to get people through the doors.
Clothing and homeware giant Next, which has become a barometer of the Boxing Day sales over the years, should today offer significant clues as to the public appetite for St Stephen's Day spending.
Its annual sale has become an unmissable sit-out for thousands across the UK, with the usual hundreds-deep queues expected across their 24 Northern Ireland stores ahead of the doors opening at 5am.
Other big names joining the Boxing Day scramble for sales - offering half price deals or even reductions of up to 80% - include Marks and Spencer, House of Fraser, Debenhams, Boots, Currys, PC World and Argos.
Springboard's director Diane Wehrle warned that Northern Ireland is poised to suffer another festive sales hangover.
Her forecast is based on last month's Black Friday, when a significant reduction in footfall gave the region the unwelcome title of the worst-performing in the UK.
"Where we used to see a rise in footfall on Boxing Day, we're seeing noticeable drops now because people just don't need to go shopping the day after Christmas," she said.
"Sales immediately go online at midnight on Christmas Day, or maybe even before, so the impetus to go out shopping is less and, when people do go out, it tends to be for more leisure-driven reasons."
Boxing Day - like New Year's Day - was conventionally one of the biggest shopping events of the year, but in more recent years the post-Christmas sales period has been affected by Black Friday.
"Black Friday is the first time in the Christmas calendar that we get a significant retail event that's essentially driven around discounting, so a lot of people will have already spent their Boxing Day money," she said.
"By the time you get to this time of the year, we've had Black Friday, then post-Black Friday discounting; we've almost got to the end of the discounts and you're at the dying embers of the Christmas trading period."
Ms Wehrle said the perception of having never-ending sales throughout the year has damaged traditional one-off events like Boxing Day - and even the relatively new Black Friday has suffered.
"Retailers are really digging themselves into a hole around discounting," she said.
"Their first move when trade dips, or doesn't meet expectations, is to slash prices but, ultimately, all they're doing is creating a culture whereby we expect everything to be discounted all the time.
"Retailers are shooting themselves in the foot because it's hitting their margins quite significantly."
But Ms Wehrle stressed that it's not all doom and gloom for retailers.
"The high street has demonstrated its ability to move with trends quite rapidly and it has been good at changing its occupier profile to be more hospitality and leisure led," said Ms Wehrle. "Offering more coffee shops and restaurants has insulated it against footfall drop more than shopping centres, so it's certainly not heralding the death of the high street."