Millions poised to log on to e-sales

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More than five million people are expected to log on and hit the online Christmas sales today, retail experts predict.

Internet retail group IMRG has estimated the hordes of e-shoppers will splurge £103.6 million, up from the £84 million spent last year.

High Street giants including John Lewis and Marks & Spencer have already launched their online sales, offering savings of up to 50% across a host of departments.

John Lewis' extravaganza started on its website at 6pm yesterday - the earliest it has ever held the sale and well ahead of the group's first in-store sale on Boxing Day launch in Manchester's Trafford Centre branch.

M&S started its sale at midnight, also offering savings of up to 50%, with Superdrug joining in with even bigger discounts of up to 90%.

Other stores kick in with huge sales tomorrow, including Debenhams and Tesco.

Debenhams has announced it is slashing as much as 70% off prices in what it describes as its biggest-ever sale, with Tesco also launching its largest round of price cuts.

The online customer surge contrasts with a gloomy mood on the high street despite a last minute rush from customers holding out for hefty bargains.

Music and games retailer Zavvi yesterday became the third retailer in 24 hours to fall into administration.

The group's woes follow those of tea and coffee merchant Whittard of Chelsea and menswear retailer The Officers Club, which were both put into administration and sold yesterday.

Analysts have speculated that between 10 and 15 national and regional chains could collapse before the end of next month.

Recent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that 82% of high street retailers offered either sales or promotions in the run up to Christmas.