Rising numbers of Chinese, Saudi and Brazilian retail tourists seeking heavily discounted, tax-free luxuries have contributed to soaring Boxing Day sales figures in London's West End.
Chinese shoppers were out in force among the estimated 700,000 people converging on the West End in search of discounts of up to 75 per cent, with many among the queue that began forming outside Selfridges in Oxford Street from 10.30pm on Christmas Day. Chinese shoppers spent an average of £1,310 per sale, compared with £120 per British shopper, according to Jace Tyrrell, a spokesman for the New West End Company, which represents the area's retailers.
He said China, with its increasingly affluent middle class and a currency that has just hit a record high, was the fastest-growing international market for the precinct's retailers, having doubled in size over the past three years to be worth £140m last year.
"It's very important for us because they're luxury shoppers and they spend on high-priced items," he said. "Luxury goods are about 30 per cent cheaper here because there's a very high tax on such goods in China. And we know anecdotally there's a desire to buy British and European luxury goods where they are made, because they're genuine artefacts."
Niravta Patel, a spokeswoman for Selfridges, said sales to Chinese customers at the department store, which employs Mandarin-speaking staff, had increased 60 per cent on last year. They included Chinese celebrities such as the actress Li Bingbing, spotted purchasing several British fashion brands.
Ms Patel said international trade at Selfridges was up by more than 40 per cent from last year, with sales to Middle Eastern customers doubling, contributing to a record first hour of trade. More than 2,000 people were queuing to enter the store when it opened at 9am, with the most expensive purchase, a Chopard diamond necklace reduced to £8,469 from £18,820, being made by an international customer.
Mr Tyrrell said throughout the year 37 per cent of shoppers in the West End were international tourists, a higher proportion than anywhere else in Europe.
The influx of tourist shoppers may have helped some retailers to make record sales on Boxing Day. Despite the effects of the Tube drivers' strike over a pay dispute, West End traders said they had taken £15m in the first three hours of the sales. Selfridges confirmed that it had beaten Boxing Day records set in 2009 – with trade up by 15 per cent on the same day two years ago.
Sue West, Selfridges' director of operations, said ladies' accessories and jewellery were the main attractions .
How one chain ensured the longest queues
As bargain hunters flocked to the shops, many of the biggest queues were for fashion outlets, with Next generating a frenzy by offering all items at half price or less and opening at 6am.
At Birmingham's Bullring centre, queues began forming at 2am, with 2,500 people eventually getting in line for Next to begin trading, and a further 1,000 gathering outside Selfridges. More than 1,000 queued at the Next outlet at Sheffield's Meadowhall, while in Leeds, the lines outside Next began forming at 1.30am.