Boxing Day snowfall set to push even more bargain-hunters online for sales

A record £636 million was spent online on Christmas Day, with 25 per cent more visits to online shopping sites than last year

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The Independent Online

Britons braving the Boxing Day sales have been warned to expect heavy rain, sleet and up to four inches of snow, after the Met Office issued severe weather alerts.

The bitter weather is expected to spread east and south across Northern Ireland, England and Wales today, before clearing in the evening.

Plunging temperatures could cause disruption on the roads as shoppers drive to the sales, with a risk of icy conditions in many areas.

“Where snow does occur accumulations of 2cm to 4cm are likely... and in excess of 10cm (4 inches) possible,” a Met Office spokesman said.

The unwelcoming conditions are likely to spur the recent boom in online shopping - with millions continuing to shop from the comfort of their homes even on Christmas Day.

A record £636 million was spent online on Christmas Day, according to data firm Experian and online retailing trade association IMRG. The number of visits made to shopping websites was up 25 per cent on last Christmas Day, to an estimated 142 million. The growth of virtual shopping has been fuelled by heavy discounts in recent weeks, in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

Some of Britain’s biggest retailers, such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, and John Lewis, started their traditional Boxing Day sales online on Christmas Eve. Prices on everything from sofas to flat screen televisions and fridge freezers have been halved on many websites.

And online shoppers are expected to spend £748 million today, or £519,000 a minute, and make 167 million visits to shopping websites - up 29 per cent on last year.

Many people will even start looking for new homes on Boxing Day, with property website Rightmove predicting more than a million visits to its website.

In a bid to get people through their doors today in spite of the wintry weather, some retailers are virtually giving away items. In the case of Gap, not content with offering up to 75 per cent off, it is also giving an extra 20 per cent off anything in the sale.

Department stores Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty and House of Fraser are offering designer goods at a fraction of their usual price, while Next and Marks & Spencer are offering up to 50 per cent off sale items.

Myf Ryan, marketing director, Westfield UK, said Boxing Day remains a “huge attraction” for shoppers. Last year saw 360,000 people visit its two centres in London, with queues forming at 5am. “This year we expect an exceptionally busy day yet again, fuelled by excellent retail offers and special deals with over 50% off by many of our 600 retailers.”

Many Britons have already begun selling unwanted presents to make money to spend on things they really want. Everything from watches to televisions, iPads and perfume went on sale on eBay yesterday, according to a report by the company which claims the total value of unwanted gifts is some £819 million.

An estimated 2.7 million Britons will put unwanted gifts up for sale on the website in days and weeks following Christmas Day. Steve Heywood, a spokesperson for the company, said: “Selling your unwanted gifts can be a good way of avoiding the embarrassment of asking for a receipt.”