Britain's luxury department store chain Selfridges, famed for its flagship store on London's Oxford Street, was snapped up Friday by a Thai-Austrian alliance for ?4.0 billion in a Christmas Eve deal that will create a global giant.

Selfridges, whose stores normally throng with gift-hunting shoppers over the festive holiday, has been sold by Canada's Weston family to Thai retail giant Central Group and Austrian property firm Signa, the groups announced in a statement.

The price, equivalent to $5.4 billion or 4.7 billion euros, was not officially disclosed but was confirmed by a source close to the matter.

The blockbuster deal however comes amid growing unease over the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the bricks-and-mortar retail sector, which has already been hit hard by the long-running pandemic.

"Central, a family-owned retail, real estate and hospitality group and Signa, one of Europe's leading real estate and retail groups, have entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Selfridges Group, a leading luxury retail group, from the Weston family," read the statement.

The transaction "will create a complementary portfolio of leading European luxury department stores" and "will create one of the world's leading omni-channel luxury department store groups", the statement said.

The purchase comprises 18 leading department stores including Selfridges in London, Manchester and Birmingham, as well as de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands, and Brown Thomas and Arnotts in Ireland.

Canadian business Holt Renfrew will however remain with the Weston family, which bought Selfridges in 2003 for ?598 million.

Central Group is owned by the Thai billionaire Chirathivat family and has scores of malls, electronics, grocery and 24-hour convenience stores across Thailand.

The Thai firm has been on an ambitious overseas spending spree in recent years -- acquiring or partnering with luxury brands in Italy, Germany and Switzerland.

Selfridges Group, which was put up for sale by the Westons in July, is one of the world's most luxurious and well-known department store chains.

Selfridges, whose flagship store is on London's Oxford Street, was founded in 1908 but has been controlled by Canada's Weston family since 2003
Selfridges, whose flagship store is on London's Oxford Street, was founded in 1908 but has been controlled by Canada's Weston family since 2003 AFP / Niklas HALLE'N

It will now become part of Central and Signa's combined luxury department store portfolio, which includes Rinascente in Italy, Illum in Denmark, Globus in Switzerland and The KaDeWe Group in Germany and Austria.

"It is a privilege to be acquiring Selfridges Group, including the flagship Oxford Street store, which has been at the centre of London's most famous shopping street for over 100 years," said Central chief executive Tos Chirathivat.

"As family businesses, Central and Signa will focus on delivering exceptional and inclusive store and digital experiences for both local residents and overseas visitors alike, to ensure we can give all the stores in Selfridges Group a bright future for the next 100 years.

"We are looking forward to working with the management teams and the colleagues across Selfridges Group, as we seek to create a world-leading luxury, retail company."

Selfridges, whose Christmas-themed window displays are a magnet for Oxford Street shoppers, was founded in 1908 but has been controlled by the Westons since 2003.

"I am proud to pass the baton to the new owners who are family businesses that take a long-term view," said Selfridges Group chair Alannah Weston.

"I know they will fully embrace that vision and continue to empower our incredible team to take the group from strength to strength."

Signa meanwhile flagged a revamp of stores.

"Together we will work with the world's leading architects to sensitively reimagine the stores in each location, transforming these iconic destinations into sustainable, energy-efficient, modern spaces, whilst staying true to their architectural and cultural heritage," said Dieter Berninghaus, Signa executive board chairman.

Friday's acquisition, which had been rumoured for weeks, comes after the UK retail sector was hammered by the coronavirus pandemic that forced consumers to shop online.

Selfridges itself cut 450 jobs in July 2020 after sales slumped during England's initial nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

High street retailers were already struggling before the Covid outbreak due to intense competition from supermarkets and online giants like Amazon.