Millions of shoppers in record-breaking Christmas surge as bargain-hunters rush to beat the VAT man's new year increase

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

Big discounts and bargain deals lured people in their droves to high streets across Britain, with shopping centres reporting a bumper start to the sales, partly driven by the imminent 2.5 per cent VAT increase.

The bumper retail figures come as a survey reveals optimism surging among business leaders. The poll by Ipsos Mori found 36 per cent of British bosses believe the UK economic situation is poised to improve - up from only 4 per cent 12 months ago, and more than at any time in the last six years.


The Oxford Street branch of Selfridges attracted around 150,000 shoppers during yesterday's opening

The number of shoppers on Britain's high streets yesterday was up by 17.9 per cent compared with a year ago - the highest rise on record for December 27.

Figures from market data firm Experian already showed a 18.6 per cent year-on-year jump on Boxing Day - another record - with Selfridges also enjoying their best ever takings for the seasonal date.

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.'

He said big discounts and the impending VAT increase on January 1 were part of the explanation. Many members of the public have been 'mission shopping' for premium goods such as electrical items and jewellery on sale offers.


Roll up, roll up: The doors opened at 9am on the second day of the Selfridges Winter Sale

The New West End Company, which represents London's exclusive shopping venues, Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, said yesterday had been frantic, with queues starting at 4am.

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

The centre estimated another 16,000 came through the doors in the first hour this morning - a record for a Bank Holiday. Altogether 85,000 to 90,000 visitors are expected today - roughly the capacity of Wembley Stadium.

Pictured are shoppers with shopping bags second day of Christmas sales in Birmingham City Centre

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

'Today will be another huge day,' said Gordon McKinnon, director of operations at the centre. 'In terms of money through the tills, it's been phenomenal. People are not here to browse, they are here to buy.'

John Lewis estimated most of its 29 shops to have taken £100,000 a hour yesterday. Andrew Murphy, the company's director of operational development, said it had been 'the most intense day of the year'.

A spokesman for Bluewater said the Kent shopping centre had enjoyed its busiest day of 2009 yesterday. About 150,000 turned up, against 100,000 on a normal Sunday.


Bargain hunters flock to the sales in Newcastle today hoping for bargains in the early January sales

At the giant Liverpool One centre shops and malls were again crowded with visitors, after 110,000 people came through the doors on Boxing Day. In Bristol the Cabot Circus shopping area saw numbers up 10 per cent over the Boxing Day weekend compared with last year.

But there was a word of caution from the BRC despite the bumper sales. Richard Dodd said: '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.'