News In Depth
Shoppers smash Boxing Day records
Boxing Day sales records were smashed as shoppers sent tills into meltdown.
Across the country, thousands of bargain-hunters waited for stores to throw open their doors. Some had queued overnight.
In London's West End shopping areas, footfall was up 31.3% on Boxing Day last year, with sales fuelled by tourists eager to spend. The UK average footfall was up by 21.6%, the retailers' body said.
In London's bustling Oxford Street, flagship store Selfridges reported its most successful first hour of trade ever, with £1.5 million rattling through the tills.
Three thousand shoppers were waiting outside the shop at 7am, and the first purchases were made within two minutes.
Forecasters said more than £50 million would have been taken on the West End's famous shopping destinations of Bond Street, Regent Street and Oxford Street by closing time on Wednesday.
The surge in enthusiasm for a spending spree was attributed by tax-free shopping experts Global Blue to wealthy international shoppers drawn in by deals on premium beauty brands and designer fashion accessories.
Middle Eastern, Chinese and Nigerian shoppers were predicted to be the strongest growth nationalities for West End shopping.
Jace Tyrrell, director of the New West End Company, which represents retailers, said: "Chinese shoppers are the top spenders across all three streets, and it's key we offer an unrivalled welcome for international visitors.
"We have a team of welcome ambassadors, ready to greet visitors, who speak over 22 languages combined, including Mandarin."
Richard Brown, of Global Blue, said: "Last year, Boxing Day helped fuel a 49% increase in the number of transactions year on year from these luxury focused international shoppers.
"The most popular purchases this year are expected to include designer handbags and fashion items, rarely discounted at home, with an increasing appetite for premium beauty brands.
"With average spend per transaction for both Chinese and Middle Eastern shoppers at well over £1,000, their impact will be hugely valuable to this sales season."
Scenes of shopping mayhem in London were repeated around the nation.
At Birmingham's Bullring Shopping Centre, thousands were ready and waiting from 12.20am for the off with 350,000 passing through within the next 24 hours.
Manchester's Trafford Centre enjoyed its biggest Boxing Day sale in its history with police drafted in to help manage the crowds - 20,000 were at the out-of-town location by 8am.
Kent's Bluewater shopping centre saw about 120,000 visitors pass through its doors, with queues forming at 1am.
Retailers slashed prices and began early-morning trading in a bid to entice shoppers and compete with online rivals offering weighty discounts.
The British Retail Consortium had described high-street spending as "acceptable but not exceptional" this festive period. But Wednesday's business was expected to add gloss to the figures.
Credit rating and analysts Experian said Yuletide online shopping had rocketed this year.
UK internet users made 84 million visits to retail websites on Christmas Eve and 107 million visits on Christmas Day - up a substantial 86%, and 71% year on year.
James Murray, digital insight manager at Experian, said: "Boxing Day has traditionally been the single biggest shopping day of the year online.
"This year we predicted that Boxing Day would see UK internet shoppers make 126 million visits to retail websites, and in doing so set new records for online shopping.
"Things could go either one of two ways.
"Either the boom in post-Christmas shopping could mean our cautious predictions of 31% growth for Boxing Day are smashed out of the park, or the early buying on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day could mean Boxing Day is slightly subdued."
Amazon's UK website said it had seen sales on Christmas Day increase by 263% over the last five years, partly due to the growth in home broadband and the popularity of tablets and smartphones.