Record-breaking sales frenzy continues

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The Independent Online

Millions of bargain-hunting shoppers once more hit the stores today as a record-breaking Christmas sales frenzy continued.

Big discounts and bargain deals lured people in their droves to high streets and shopping centres across the land, with shopping centres reporting a bumper start to the sales season.

The number of shoppers on Britain's high streets soared by 17.9% yesterday compared with a year ago - the highest rise on record for December 27, according to market data firm Experian.

Richard Dodd, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: "It's been the strongest start to the post Christmas sales we have seen for a number of years - if not ever."

Mr Dodd said the main reason for the sales surge was that Boxing Day fell on a Saturday and tough trading throughout the year meant more discounts than ever before, as retailers battle to get shoppers to part with their money.

Records fell at the huge 125-shop Brent Cross centre in north London, which saw 16,000 shoppers cram the centre in its first hour of opening yesterday - a record since it opened in 1976.

It was also the centre's busiest Sunday since Sunday trading began in 1994.

The centre estimated another 16,000 came through the doors in the first hour today - a record for a bank holiday.

Norman Black, marketing director for the centre said they expected 85,000 to 90,000 visitors today - roughly the capacity of Wembley Stadium.

"The place is absolutely heaving," Mr Black said. "The malls are absolutely rammed here. All I can say is, 'Wow' it is great, really good."

Mr Black said he expected visitor numbers up to 225,000 over the last three days. He said big discounts and the impending VAT increase had prompted mass "mission shopping" with electricals and jewellery the main targets for bargain hunters.

"People are mission shopping," Mr Black added, "People who have clearly had their eye on things they want and have been saving for it all year and have now come to buy it in the sales."

At the Trafford Centre outside Manchester 150,000 shoppers visited on Boxing Day, 15% up on last year and yesterday 115,000 visited in the six hours of Sunday trading - 25% up on last year.

"Today will be another huge day," said Gordon McKinnon, director of operations at the centre.

"People are pouring into the shops, it is a bank holiday and the sun is shining, it is a great day for shopping.

"We are expecting another bumper day.

"For retailers, in terms of money through the tills, it's been phenomenal.

"There is clear evidence of a lot of heavy shopping going on. People are not here to browse, they are here to buy."

At the giant Liverpool One centre shops and malls were again crowded with visitors, following on from the 110,000 who crammed the centre on Boxing Day.

A spokeswoman said: "It is looking like today is going to be another busy one."

Bristol's flagship shopping area Cabot Circus saw an increase in shoppers of 10% over the Boxing Day weekend compared with last year.

Centre manager James Bailey said they had a footfall of 150,000 people.

"We are very pleased and retailers are very positive about strong sales," he said.

"We have to factor in that Boxing Day fell on a Saturday which encouraged people to come out but I think there are some fantastic sales out there and that is the big factor.

"We are encouraged by the number of bags we are seeing, so people are definitely shopping in earnest.

He said shoppers hunting for bargains on more expensive items were spending now before the VAT rise on January 1.

"We are expecting to see a push on the larger ticket items, like televisions, where the 2.5 per cent makes a difference, that is the feedback we are getting from customers."

Experian's footfall figures for Boxing Day showed an 18.6% jump in the number of shoppers compared with last year, which was the highest ever recorded on Boxing Day by the firm.

Selfridges enjoyed its best Boxing Day yet with a 10% rise on last year, and by 1pm menswear in the London store had taken more than £1 million.

But there was a word of caution from the BRC despite the bumper sales.

Richard Dodd added: "The big question is, to what extent this momentum continues into the New Year and to what extent it is just an interlude in the gloom."

:: A survey out today by the BRC said stores expected retail sales in 2010 to be the same as 2009 but none thought sales would be worse and just over a fifth thought they would be better.

Low consumer demand, rising unemployment, increased taxes and a weak economy were all worries for retailers.