Millions in last-minute Christmas shopping frenzy

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Millions of Christmas shoppers hit the stores yesterday in a frenzy of last-minute buying.

Heavy discounts were advertised at many stores and some stayed open until 11pm to squeeze the most out of the pre-Christmas rush.

London’s West End was heaving and hectic scenes were reported across Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street.

All did not run smoothly for every retailer however, with London’s luxury department store Fortnum & Mason having to apologise to customers after IT problems caused delays to its Christmas deliveries.

A spokeswoman said: “A combination of the well reported ‘late Christmas buying season’, leading to an unprecedented 300 per cent year on year increase in customer transactions during December and the introduction of a new IT infrastructure across the business in 2011 has put extreme pressure on our operations.”

The store offered a full refund to anyone who did not receive their order before Christmas.

Early bird shoppers queued outside John Lewis, Hamleys and Marks & Spencer before doors opened yesterday morning, keen to beat the crowds.

A spokesman for the New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers across the three famous shopping streets, said it was even busier than anticipated, adding that about 70 per cent of the shoppers appeared to be men who had left their gift-buying to the 11th hour. The company expect ed one million West End shoppers would spend £100m in total today and yesterday. Peak time was between 3pm and 4pm yesterday as office workers clocked off early for their Christmas holidays and headed to the shops.

Stores yesterday offered discounts of up to 60 per cent, with Gap, House of Fraser, French Connection and Debenhams among those selling cut-price items.

Thousands of shoppers also descended on Manchester’s Trafford Centre, where over 600 buses have been arriving every day from throughout the North.

Meanwhile e-retail association Interactive Media in Retail Group forecast that consumers would spend £186m online on Christmas Day, with the Boxing Day spend expected to be almost double that at £367m.