Shoppers flock to Christmas sales

Crowds of shoppers lined the high street before first light today as major stores and retailers were expecting a bumper day in the Christmas sales.

Queues formed outside Harrods and on Oxford Street in central London as early as 6am for the bank holiday clearances.

Department stores John Lewis and Harrods opened their doors for the

first time since Christmas after staying closed on Boxing Day, and were expecting a massive boost in trade.

John Lewis launched its online clearance at 5pm on Christmas Eve and saw sales rise by 42% with more than four products sold every second.

The store also attracted a 25% increase in visitors online on Christmas

Day with sales going up by 45%.

The most popular Christmas Day purchases included feather pillows, luxury white towels, napkin rings, LCD televisions and laptops.

Figures for the week ending on Christmas Day showed sales of 97.1 million for John Lewis, up 30% on last year as shoppers made their purchases before the rise in VAT in the new year.

Maggie Porteous, head of selling operations for John Lewis, said: "We are thrilled to have seen such a positive start to our online clearance and this bodes very well for trade across our shops when they open their doors.

"Customers clearly appreciate our Never Knowingly Undersold commitment and are responding extremely well to our inspiring products, great

value and exceptional service.

"We are also thrilled to have finished the pre-Christmas period on such a strong note as the slight thaw in the weather released some pent-up

demand.

"Due to the fall of the calendar we traded for six days in the final week this year compared with five last year, however this is still a fantastic result."

Harrods also expected a lift in sales with its discounts on designer clothes and gadgets.

Highlights at the Knightsbridge store included a Marc Jacobs sequinned evening bag reduced from 670 to 399 and a Sony 3D TV bundle package down from 3,549 to 2,828.

The sale, which started at 9am today, will run until Sunday January 23.

Shopping centres around the UK were also prepared for a busy day as the big freeze eased its grip on the country and tempted shoppers back on to the high street.

Tim Walley, general manager at the Bullring in Birmingham, said: "During Bank Holiday Monday we expect to see in the region of 200,000 shoppers visit Bullring as the centre opens its doors at 9am, whilst Next opens at 5am to kickstart their post-Christmas sale."

Glen Barkworth, general manager at the Arndale Centre in Manchester, added: "There's some significant offers on high-ticket merchandise, plasma and flat screen TVs selling for under 400, silly prices.

"With VAT increasing in a few days time the retailers are gearing themselves up to take advantage, they have purchased in bulk and the public are willing to buy."

Sisters Jane and Lucy Batham at the Tarte and Berry bakery in Farsley, Leeds. Picture: Simon Hulme

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