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Tourists join the bargain hunters
Thousands of people hit British high streets today for the Boxing Day sales, with international tourists out in force and spending big.
Many keen bargain-hunters started queuing before dawn to ensure they were first in line when the shops opened - but some started to queue as early as 11.30pm on Christmas Day at Selfridges on Oxford Street in central London.
As 3500 shoppers surrounded the huge shopping emporium, it was apparent the queue was made up of people from all around the world - particularly from China.
The significant presence of international shoppers was confirmed by Global Blue tax-free shopping experts.
Shoppers from Qatar spend the most on average per transaction (£1,714) followed by those from the United Arab Emirates (£1,372) but a spokesman said Chinese shoppers are the biggest spenders overall. They spend £1,367 on average per transaction but are more likely to return to the tills with more goods.
Gordon Clark, UK country manager of Global Blue, said: "With international shoppers, particularly from China, Russia and Nigeria, spending on average four times more than domestic shoppers, retailers can look to boost Christmas trading by tailoring their in-store experience to these high-spending tourists."
Waiting in the Selfridges line was Wang Tianyi, 21, a student from China who is studying in Liverpool, and his girlfriend Sun Yeting, also 21, who is on holiday visiting him.
The couple had been queuing since 4am, and were rather cold four-and-a-half hours later.
"We don't prepare very well," Mr Tianyi joked, adding: "I've heard it's crazy."
The couple said they hope to pick up lots of gifts for their family, and said they will go straight for the luxury goods.
"We will buy the things we like," Mr Tianyi said.
Wei Tuiao, 23, from China, said: "I have been into Selfridges this morning to get a Louis Vuitton handbag."
Nevy Frega, 20, and Hassan Frega, 19, from Egypt, said: "We come to the sales every year, it is a great opportunity to buy lots of designer and high street clothes - we love British fashion."
Eyal Keden, 40, from Israel, is in London on holiday and had been queueing since 6.30am.
"It's amazing. We don't have this in Israel," the engineer said.
Sue West, retail director at Selfridges, said the Boxing Day sale is very important for its international customers.
"The Chinese market is hugely important to Selfridges. It's one of the fastest growing international markets that we have.
"But likewise, we have a lot of international customers. You'll see a lot of Europeans today.
"You'll see a lot of people from all over the world.
"So, really our international market is growing very, very fast.
"Asia and China is a big part of that," she said.
Selfridges celebrated its most successful ever first hour of trade, taking over £1.9 million between 9am and 10am - this is an increase of over 16% compared to last year, across all stores and online, with o nline sales up 110% on last year, a spokesman said.
S ally Eden, of the New West End Company, said that by 10am footfall was up nearly 12% year-on-year (compared with Boxing Day last year).
Harrods also kicked off its winter sale and offered mugs of hot chocolate, smoked salmon canapes and blankets to keep people warm in the queue, which was serenaded by a string quartet and a performance by street magician Dynamo.
Department store Liberty offered designer goods at a fraction of their usual price, while both Next and Marks & Spencer boasted discounts of up to 50% on sale items.
Bluewater in Kent predicted more than 800,000 people will come through its doors between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve.
Meanwhile, at Cabot Circus in Bristol shoppers began queuing at 6am for the chance to grab a bargain.
At St David's shopping centre in Cardiff, retailers were expecting 150,000 visitors, with sales tipped to reach £2 million.
Ms West from Selfridges said the ITV drama Mr Selfridge has done "wonders for the brand".
She added: "We've seen a lot of new clients, a lot of new customers come in, ever since the series went live.
"A lot of curious customers who haven't been in before."
She said the staff "love" the series, which aired on Sunday nights.
"On the Monday we'd come in and we're all comparing stories, and talking about it.
"And Jeremy Piven is now a big pin-up for most of the staff in the store," she said.
Meanwhile, Liberty reported better-than-expected Christmas trading following a Channel 4 documentary about the store.
Spokeswoman Kate Brindley said: "Liberty has seen a really remarkable Christmas trading period so far. Footfall has been up between 45-60%, a lot of that we feel has come from our appearance in a Channel 4 documentary focused on everything that happens in the store and behind the scenes in the run up to Christmas.
"Sales are up 17% on last year."
Tom Nathan, general manager of Brent Cross shopping centre in north London, said people come out the day after Christmas to face the madness of the sales "because it's the thrill of a bargain".
More than 1.4 million shoppers were expected to spend a total of more than £50 million in London's West End today.