Big crowds boost shops' hopes for record sales bargains

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The Independent Online

Shops across Britain were expecting record sales last night after Boxing Day bargain-hunters queued in freezing temperatures for cut-price designer label clothes and household items.

Shops across Britain were expecting record sales last night after Boxing Day bargain-hunters queued in freezing temperatures for cut-price designer label clothes and household items.

Department stores and shopping centres that had opened their doors - 24 hours earlier than most of their rivals - reported unexpectedly high takings.

Staff at many shops have had only a day's break and were having to cope with the high demand. The turn-out appeared to confirm expert predictions that December sales this year would outstrip last year's pre-millennium splurge.

A queue of about 1,000 shoppers had formed outside the Trafford Centre, Manchester, three hours before the 10am opening time, and staff were confidently predicting a 30 per cent increase on last year's Boxing Day visitors to about 80,000 by the end of the day.

Early arrivals focused on discounted electrical items such as cameras, televisions and DVD players at £99, but the biggest clamour at the centre was reserved for designer labels at the Selfridges and USC department stores.

Kate Whittaker, a spokeswoman for Trafford's 280 retail stores, said: "We are one of the few major sites in the country to open on Boxing Day and have been amazed at the queues. Designer fashion has been the big seller particularly among the 16 to 35-year-olds."

However, mobile phone shops reported slower sales compared with the phenomenal trade of the past two years, which included "two-for-one" deals being offered in the run-up to Christmas.

A spokeswoman for The Phone People shop in Manchester said: "Fashion and the designer brands have been doing well. Our trade was best before Christmas when there were some amazing deals."

Selfridges reported increased takings compared with the corresponding day last year due mainly to a brisk trade in the fashion department, which is offering discounts of up to 50 per cent on clothing labels including Armani, Calvin Klein and Nicole Farhi.

Womenswear bargains such as a Moschino jacket reduced by £500 and Armani eveningwear for New Year's Eve parties were "flying off the pegs", in the words of the store manager, Kathy Needham, while the menswear department reported a fast trade in half-priced suits by Boss and Press & Bastyan.

Ms Needham said: "When we opened at 10am there were queues outside every entrance. People came running through the store and headed straight for the fashion departments."

In Edinburgh, House of Fraser reported high demand for homeware, especially discounted towels, Dartington crystal and sets of cooking pans. Ruth Nicholson, the store manager, said: "Takings are up on last year - the appetite for shopping does not seem to wane at all. I think we have also benefited because Boxing Day was on a Sunday last year and people were less prepared to come out."

Marks & Spencer said its decision to extend its Boxing Day opening to four stores in Scotland had been vindicated by early sales indicators.

Steve Moody, a regional manager, said more than 1,000 shoppers had arrived within the first 15 minutes of opening at the Gyle Shopping Centre in Edinburgh. He said: "We had the busiest hour of the year between 11am and midday in the clothing and textile departments. We are extremely pleased with sales and it seems it was the right choice to open on Boxing Day."

Much of the Boxing Day trade was restricted to a few department stores and shopping centres, as well as DIY and furniture chain stores. In the evening, thousands of retail staff members were marking down items and preparing stock for one of the biggest days in the calendar today, when most retailers begin their end-of-year sales.

Many of Britain's biggest shopping malls also start their sales today, including Merry Hill in Birmingham, Brent Cross in north London, Meadowhall in Sheffield and Cribbs Causeway, Bristol.

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