I worked in department stores in the Eighties (the Nineteen-Eighties, thanks). In those days of coal, Winter Sales started on Boxing Day, and people waited all night in sleeping bags on pavements for the “call birds”: one-off special offers, worth sleeping rough for a few hours for. It was theatre.
Somebody – I don’t know who – had the bright idea of offering a Sale preview, allowing shoppers before Christmas to see what would be on offer in the Sale after it. Inevitably, somebody else (or it might have been the same somebody) then started allowing people to buy at Preview prices. It wasn’t long before Winter Sales were starting in mid-December. As far as I know, somewhere in the course of this transition, call birds flew away, until the only people in sleeping bags were the people who lived in them.
It was only an extension of the same process by which January Sales had become Winter Sales.
But starting post-Christmas events before Christmas meant that Boxing Day wasn’t such a peak anymore. Even as National DIY Day, it had declined, as people were getting longer breaks from work and didn’t want to do DIY while there were still leftovers to be eaten. Retailers always want to have their Christmas cake and eat it, too, and big-ticket items like kitchens never gained much by starting early: whatever you do, most people aren’t buying kitchens for Christmas. Perhaps that’s why some of the large kitchen retailers started to manipulate their figures around Christmas, by holding back sales from earlier in the month, to pump them through – usually with the customer absent – on Boxing Day.
It turns out that when retailers talk about how great their Boxing Day performance is, they don’t want to be told that it’s because they held it over from the previous three or four weeks. Consequently, for some years, we had kitchen designers all over the country coming to work on Boxing Day to spend a few minutes processing old sales as new, and the rest of the day sitting around doing nothing. Customers weren’t coming in, because they knew the same offers had been available for weeks and would be for weeks to come, and it was Boxing Day, after all. It’s a holiday.
(Unless you work for Walmart in the US, where apparently this year staff were given a discount instead of holiday pay for Boxing Day. Merry Christmas.)
Anyway… this Boxing Day, I visited my local retail estates. Wren was open, of course, and B&Q (not having a Winter Sale on kitchens, because they don’t do that anymore) – but Homebase and Wickes were closed. If their staff were sitting around doing nothing, they were doing it at home, with their families, like normal people.
My guess is that they won’t have missed one kitchen sale by staying closed on Boxing Day. Others will have processed sales they really took on other days, and perhaps they saw customers who will visit their competitors over the next few days, when they’re open. The figures they publish will show that they had a stonking Boxing Day, and they’ll stand by those figures.
I don’t believe them, that’s all.