It could be a record-breaking January sales season, with Harrods taking pounds 16,000 a minute on the first day. Rachel Halliburton joins the crowds

As sales shoppers swarm over stores like a plague of cash-happy locusts, it seems they cannot wait for Christmas to come again. Christmas cards are among the more surprising bargains stripped from this year's display of tempting reductions at Liberty in London.

The seasonal chill has led many, waving credit cards, into coat departments. Those who go to Aquascutum are exchanging pounds 400 to pounds 800 for the pleasure of wearing one of the store's own coats, while in Hobbs the most expensive coat (a mere pounds 239) disappeared with all the others in the sale's first week.

One sales hound, looking for a more exotic way of keeping warm, sniffed out a Chinese Sumak 100 per cent wool hand-knotted rug at Selfridges, reduced from a monumental pounds 1,599 to a humble pounds 399.

At Aquascutum, a morning visit from Roy Hattersley had proved the highlight to a lull in their otherwise very busy sale.

Elsewhere in London, the crowds were evident at Hamleys, Liberty and C&A, and shopkeepers seemed confident of a steady flow of cash into their tills. "I expect this to be a record post-Christmas sale," said Hugh Clark, director of trading policy at the British Retail Consortium.

Not all buyers have obeyed the dictates of the weather. The most unusual purchase at the Pukka Palace sale was of nine solar topis, which went for the bargain price of pounds 20.76 each.

People attracted to warmer climes also homed in on Liberty, where the oriental carpets are bringing in thousands of pounds. Even though no one has gone for the most expensive carpet, at pounds 20,000, one purchaser went for a combined option, spending pounds 12,000 on one carpet and pounds 6,000 on another.

"It's been the sale of 'plastic panic' so far," says Tony Salem, Liberty's group managing director, who also reports that customers are happily tying themselves in knots with a variety of scarves, ranging from pounds 19.50 to pounds 210.

Nowhere is the panic greater than at Harrods, however, where on Wednesday, the first day of the sale, credit cards lost pounds 16,000 a minute to the tills.

One purchaser decided that his answer to the cold weather lay in two bottles of claret, for which he paid the paltry sum of pounds 2,700.

Harrods

Roxanne Covo, from Brazil

"I've never been to Harrods before. I spent the New Year in Paris first. I was going to spend about pounds 900, but ended up spending pounds 1,000."

Marcus Reoch, from Knightsbridge

"I've spent pounds 80 so far, on trousers and a shirt. I wouldn't mind the Lamborghini on the top floor if I had that kind of money."

Daniella Dyer, from St John's Wood

"I come to lunch here sometimes to wallow in luxury for a minute. I expected to spend pounds 400, but only spent pounds 200 on porcelain and this rabbit."

Deepak and Anita Kripalani, from Canada

Deepak: "I bought a replica of a Rolls-Royce, for pounds 105, for a friend back home, but I'm mainly interested in the crystal, because I'm in glass- making myself. I could spend anything - I've got no particular budget."

Liberty

Bridget Boyd and Helen Howe, from Georgia

Bridget: "I came to England once before on a theatre trip, but this time I came to the sales. They're wonderful. I want to come back again next year." Helen: "You just want to ship it all home with you."

Zoe Gregory, from Camberley

"I went for a frying pan, and a pestle and mortar. I wanted the York half-goblet. Perhaps I'll come back and get it later."

Hamleys

Stuart Dalgleish, from Southbourne

"My 34-year-old son can't have a real bulldog, so I bought him a toy one for pounds 20. There were a few to choose from, but I couldn't resist the one I ended up with, because he had the fiercest face of them all. I brought some American friends with me, and they got a train set and some metal soldiers."

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