Shoppers appear to have defied Boxing Day expectations with early indications suggesting footfall at UK retail destinations is up by as much as half on this time last year.
Concerns had been raised that the cost-of-living crisis coupled with rail strikes could affect the traditionally popular shopping day.
But central London, which has been hit hard by industrial action from transport unions, saw footfall more than double on Boxing Day morning.
Industry analyst Springboard said data up until midday on Monday showed footfall was higher across all three key retail destination types compared with the same period in 2021.
On high streets it was up by 59.4%, in shopping centres by 46.6%, and in retail parks by 33.7%, Springboard said.
With footfall in central London up 139.2%, the data firm suggested negative impacts from industrial action on the railways had not materialised as expected.
However, Boxing Day footfall this year has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels, remaining 30.5% lower than on December 26 in 2019.
While footfall was up “significantly” across all UK nations, Northern Ireland saw the greatest increase, at more than five times the level seen in 2021.
Last December, Covid rules are thought to have impacted shoppers, with restrictions in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including wearing masks in all shops and limiting indoor group sizes to six.
In both the east of England and the Greater London regions, the rise in footfall from last year was at least a third more than seen in other parts of the UK, Springboard said.
Scotland saw the smallest rise – up 27.4% – with Springboard noting the weather has been “far less favourable”.
Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said a likely factor in the increase was Boxing Day 2021 fell on a Sunday rather than a weekday, but added that the latest figures “provide real reason for optimism amongst retailers”.
She said: “Whilst the bounce back from the pandemic is a key reason for the increased footfall, a further boost to footfall is likely to have been provided by the fact that Boxing Day in 2021 was on a Sunday.
“This meant a number of stores were closed and some would have had reduced trading hours.
“As the day progresses, we are likely to see a smaller increase in footfall from 2021, however, given the scale of the uplift already recorded, the increase in activity from last year will remain significant.
“Footfall has undoubtedly been helped by the calm and sunny weather, which will have encouraged consumers to make trips out.
“These results provide real reason for optimism amongst retailers, as these results come in the face of another rail strike and the underlying challenge of the cost-of-living crisis.”
The New West End Company, which represents 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners across the central London shopping area, said it was optimistic for “strong levels of trading” this Boxing Day.
But its chief executive Dee Corsi said there could have been even more shoppers if it had not been for rail strikes.
She said: “The resilience of the West End has once again shone through, with many visitors looking to make the most of the Boxing Day sales on offer. However, we would have welcomed so many more without the rail strikes looming over the high street.
“We continue to urge all parties to work together to come to an agreement so that retail and leisure businesses can make the most of the new year.”
Research by Barclaycard Payments found that the average shopper intends to buy £229 worth of items in the post-Christmas sales period, a reduction of £18 compared with 2021.
Nevertheless, it still represents a busy end to 2022, with technology retailers expected to particularly benefit from shoppers seeking a bargain.
Personal technology items were the most sought-after by those questioned about the post-Christmas sales, at 42% of consumers.
Food and drink items are also expected to be popular, according to the credit card business.
The research found that a growing number of shoppers expected to turn to reselling sites to buy items after Christmas.
It found that almost three in 10 – 28% – are planning to use platforms such as Ebay and Facebook Marketplace, to offload unwanted Christmas presents.