More than 28 million people will hit Britain's streets today to make the most of some of the biggest Boxing Day savings ever seen, as retailers try to salvage some optimism and a few million pounds after a gloomy Christmas for the high street. But shoppers are likely to find that the best bargains have already gone – snapped up on Christmas Day by online bargain hunters.
Online retail expert IMRG estimates that £186.4m was spent online yesterday. Many retailers began their sales long before the traditional Boxing Day starting pistol - Marks & Spencer and John Lewis launched their online clearances at 5pm on Christmas Eve, while Debenhams' biggest ever sale, with 70 per cent off many items, has been running since 23 December.
Electricals retailer Comet said the peak time for online shopping was between 7pm and 8pm on Christmas Day, and estimated that 370,000 people would visit its site.
The online revolution in festive shopping has been fuelled this year by a surge in the sales of e-readers and tablets. Ebook sales have soared and the devices were top of many people's Christmas lists.
Meanwhile, on the High Street, retailers are hoping the sales will make up for a lacklustre Christmas, with electrical goods, winter clothes and, interestingly, underwear, top of the list of items people buy on 26 December, according to a survey by TK Maxx.
Today, Next outlets will be open from 6am, 164 Debenhams stores will be open at 7am and London's Selfridges store is preparing for 2,000 people to start queuing at 5am. Up to 228,000 people will descend on Birmingham's Bullring Shopping Centre and a spokesman for the Trafford Centre in Manchester said 10,000 shoppers were expected to pass its doors every ten minutes.