Shoppers ignore recession as Boxing Day sales skyrocket

Retailers make up for a slow start to the season
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Thousands of bargain hunters descended on high streets and shopping centres around the country yesterday for what were thought to be the biggest Boxing Day sales ever. Stores extended their opening hours to cope with the surge in shoppers, which retail analysts believe is due to Boxing Day falling on a Saturday, and shoppers' desire to snap up big-ticket purchases such as TVs before VAT rises to 17.5 per cent on 1 January.

London's Oxford Street saw die-hard shoppers queuing outside some stores as early as 2am, while four shoppers in Manchester were treated for minor injuries yesterday morning after being hurt when a ceiling panel fell on them in Selfridges.

"This will have been the biggest retail Boxing Day we have ever had," said Richard Dodd, a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium. "This is due to a combination of the fact that retail is still difficult, so shops are battling to get customers, and the fact that Saturday is always the biggest day of the five-day sales. We have got more shops starting their sales today than ever before."

Discounts of 75 per cent off designer labels such as Alexander McQueen saw Selfridges' flagship London store beat last year's sales record, selling £1m worth of goods by 11am. Debunking the myth that women are the most profligate sales shoppers, spend in the store's menswear department exceeded womenswear, taking £1m by 1pm.

Out-of-town shopping centres proved just as popular, with the 12,000 car-parking spaces at Sheffield's Meadowhall Centre filled by 11am and overspill car-parks opened to accommodate 100,000 visitors, while 125,000 shoppers were expected at Bluewater shopping centre in Kent.

"Customers have been flooding through our doors from the early hours today. Shoppers have been planning their sale purchases before the VAT hike comes into effect, and, as a consequence, we are extremely busy," said Trevor Pereira, commercial director at Capital Shopping Centres, which has interests in 14 regional shopping centres including Lakeside in Essex and the Metrocentre near Newcastle.

"Retailers are experiencing high demand for laptops, TVs, mobile phones and home wares."

The current surge comes after a disappointing December for retailers. Footfall in the week before Christmas was much lower than predicted, with the number of people shopping 7 per cent lower than during the corresponding week in 2008, according to the market research agency Synovate. In December 2008, shoppers spent an average £1bn per day, a figure that some retail analysts believe could rise to as much as £3bn today.

Online retailers are also expecting record-breaking takings, after cutting prices in the hope of taking on their high street rivals. Many shoppers did not wait for Boxing Day to snap up bargains; the industry body Interactive Media in Retail Group estimated that shoppers spent £120m online on Christmas Day, with a peak in sales after the Queen's speech at 3pm. The travel website slashed its prices by up to 60 per cent and saw customers peak at 3.32pm on Christmas Day, according to its head of travel, Andy Washington, while the DIY chain B&Q began an online and in-store sale on Christmas Eve.