Despite the credit squeeze and warnings of a recession, thousands of Britons began sale-shopping on Christmas Day this year thanks to online technology.
In a continuing cultural shift that many commentators say has helped turn Christmas from a religious season of goodwill to a consumerist one of acquisition, many retailers began their online sales early yesterday.
The Post Office Broadband website was predicting that nearly two-thirds of all Britons would have a session on their computer at some point yesterday.
According to their research, based on a YouGov survey of 2,042 people carried out earlier this month, one in five of those surfing the net would be logging on to spend money.
The Post Office Broadband manager, Stewart Fox-Mills, said: "Whereas families traditionally fought over the TV remote control on Christmas Day, the growing popularity of computers and the internet means more people will be fighting over the mouse this year."
While many children awaited the arrival of Santa in the early hours of Christmas Day, thousands of people were already in front of their computers blearily browsing the online sales.
M&S, which usually concentrates on its high street presence, cashed in on the trend. From midnight to 1am on Christmas morning alone, tens of thousands of shoppers logged on to its website to buy products.
The chain's in-store sale begins tomorrow but, like retailers such as PC World, Currys and Argos, they decided to launch their online sale on 25 December.
A spokesperson for M&S said online shopping on Christmas Day was becoming more popular and made no comment as to the appropriateness of the trend. "Our customers like to shop online before the store sales start two days later, as it gives them the chance to get ahead," she said.
"Online shopping is becoming more and more popular as confidence has grown in delivery and security from websites."
This is the seventh year that M&S has launched its sale online on Christmas Day. "It's more convenient for some people to beat the rush of people to the shops, and simply choose from home," continued the spokesperson. "Last year, just under 200,000 people shopped on the site on Christmas Day. We're expecting more this year."
The electrical chain Comet predicted that some people were likely to switch on to their computers from around 3pm, after finishing their Christmas dinner. A web-traffic peak was expected at 9pm. DSG International, parent company for PC World, Currys and Dixons, said flat-screen TVs, laptops and cameras would be popular online.
"January sales" were once a marketing ploy in the slack new year retail period but they have been arriving in shops earlier each year. This year, many will begin in shops today, four days before January, but by then the internet version will be two days old.