People buying food and last-minute presents faced a race against time yesterday as shops were restricted to only six hours of opening.
Millions of shoppers hit the stores at the weekend, and Saturday is expected to have become the busiest day of the year on the high street.
But those who left their shopping to the last minute had to plan their excursions carefully, as there was not much time yesterday in which to stock the fridge or get hold of those final few presents.
Supermarket chain Sainsbury’s recruited an extra 20,000 staff and sent 2,000 office workers to the shop floor to help meet demand over the weekend.
A Sainsbury’s spokeswoman said: “December 23 is always the busiest day for Christmas shopping, so to have it condensed into six hours will obviously pose challenges.”
Sainsbury’s expected to sell 225,000 bottles of champagne over the weekend, and this Christmas will sell 90,000 turkeys, half a million kilograms of Christmas cheese, 6,500 tonnes of potatoes and 52 million sprouts.
Consumers were predicted to spend up to £5bn over the course of the weekend as many retailers opened their doors until 11pm in the last dash to Christmas.
One credit card company alone said it expected to handle more than 30 million transactions on Saturday.
Crowds flocked to London’s West End and shopping centres up and down the country, braving wet and blustery conditions to make the most of early sales and discounts.
Streets were teeming with people in the capital – where Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street were among the busiest hot-spots – and queues built up outside some shops before they opened their doors.
Meanwhile, growing numbers of consumers were still going online to snap up bargains.
Despite gloomy sales figures, cash spending was expected to be up on last year.
Visa Europe said customers were set to spend £1.26bn on their Visa cards alone.
The company predicted it would process 31.9 million transactions on Saturday, with 2pm to 3pm the busiest hour.
It said shoppers appeared to have saved up for a “spree” this weekend – dubbed “the big one” – with figures showing an incremental increase in spending in recent weeks. The British Retail Consortium said Saturday would be the busier of the two days, primarily because of longer opening hours.