Mega Monday: bargain-hunters join half-mile queue at 2.30am

Dedicated shoppers had formed a half-mile-long queue outside Next in Milton Keynes by 2.30am – two and a half hours before the store's doors opened.

Several British retail records were set yesterday, but few bargain hunters showed such levels of commitment as those who stood in the dark and cold outside the town's megalithic shopping complex. That Next store opened at 5am. By 1pm more than 6,000 customers had pushed discounted goods through the tills. By 2.30pm Milton Keynes Shopping Centre's footfall was 83,401, up by one-third on "all previous records", said a spokesman, who added that "retailers across all departments were predicting sales far in excess of budget targets". The centre's director, Robert Hall, said gleefully: "It's obviously been an incredibly busy day."

By the end of the day, shoppers with more regular body clocks appeared to have ensured that "mega Monday", the first full day of the clearance sales, lived up to its billing.

Milder weather, a full day of trading, "pent-up demand" from the snowfall and a rush to beat the VAT rise to 20 per cent next week meant that most high streets and shopping centres, from Kent's Bluewater to Sheffield's Meadowhall, were crammed by those with an eye for a deal – or something to spend Christmas vouchers on.

Retailers enticed shoppers with discounts of up to 75 per cent ahead of what they expect will be a challenging year of trading in 2011.

The six-hour Sunday trading restrictions on Boxing Day meant that yesterday was a far bigger day for retailers to generate revenue, particularly as some of the high street's biggest beasts, from John Lewis to Marks & Spencer, held off launching their clearance sales until yesterday. Bluewater expected about 180,000 shoppers to have come through its stores. Queues began forming outside at 3am.

While trading appeared strong yesterday, footfall in some places was actually down on the previous day. The research firm Synovate Retail Performance said the number of visitors to 6,000 non-food stores it analysed had dropped by 7.1 per cent on Boxing Day, compared with 27 December 2009.

As shown by a surge in online sales, many people chose to shop on their laptops, with discounts being offered as early as Christmas Day, instead of venturing out. UK consumers spent £123m on Christmas Day alone and this rocketed to £265m on Boxing Day, according to Retail Decisions, the card fraud prevention specialist. A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: "It has been a really strong start to the post-Christmas sales for a number of reasons – partly because of the influence of the VAT rise."

What not to buy in the Christmas sales

Susie Rushton, Viewspaper, page 20