City centres all over Britain ground to a halt as drivers headed for the sales. Liverpool was gridlocked and traffic was brought to a standstill in Manchester, Sunderland, Bolton, Chester and Birmingham. Sales traffic was also heavy in Canterbury, Tunbridge Wells, Croydon, Southampton, Oxford, Truro and around London's Brent Cross shopping complex.
An RAC spokesman, Rob Maynard, said: "People are prepared to queue in their cars for hours to get the bargains they want."
The Lakeside shopping centre in Thurrock, Essex, said takings were 10 to 12 per cent up on last year. "It has been an exceptional day," said a spokesman. "We are expecting 140,000 by the end of the day."
The MetroCentre in Gateshead was also having a record-breaking time with 300,000 people visiting over the weekend and yesterday. A lot of the shoppers were spending their windfall from the Northern Rock building society's conversion to a bank.
Selfridges director David Elliott, who is also vice president of the Oxford Street Traders' Association, said: "It has been absolutely packed today. There are record numbers of people - 12,000 more than last year in our store alone. There are obviously a lot of people who are still on holiday. Men's clothes are selling well. We have had a lot of half- price stock and we will be making further reductions in the next 24 hours."
Marks & Spencer reported busy high street shops up and down the country.
The CBI said many manufacturing industry businesses were on two weeks' holiday - but many other workers in retail and leisure industries were having their busiest periods. Clive Vaughan of Verdict retail analysts said: "More and more people are taking a fortnight off over Christmas so there is plenty of time for going to the sales.
"Records are being broken in some places, particularly out-of-town shopping centres." Jobs boom, page 22