Shoppers out in force after snow
Retailers expect Thursday to have been the busiest shopping day of the year so far as people finally ventured out on a last-minute Christmas spending spree.
With many forced to delay shopping trips because of snow - and with a VAT hike looming - payment card group Visa Europe said the day was likely to be a record-breaker as it expected to process around 26.5 million transactions worth more than £1.2 billion.
Phil Steele, general manager of Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle city centre, said: "It is very busy. It snowed first thing this morning and all last night but by 9am all the car parks were packed and had queues outside."
Shoppers were also out in force at the McArthurGlen designer retail outlet centre off the M4 in Bridgend, south Wales. Bosses at the "shopping village", which is home to 90 separate retail outlets, said business had been brisk.
Cath Letton, retail centre marketing head, said: "People were forced to stay away when we had snow last week but they are certainly making up for it. We are very, very busy, people are out in droves, panic-buying probably."
The giant Meadowhall shopping centre near Sheffield reported packed car parks and stores as up to 130,000 people turned up for last-minute Christmas shopping.
Tesco said it had enjoyed its busiest day of the year.
Department store John Lewis's director of selling operations David Barford said: "This week is always incredibly busy for us but there will also be an element of pent-up demand where shoppers weren't able to get to branches because of the weather. It's going to be a very busy week, weather permitting. Customers get to a point where they have to shop."
Anne Pitcher, Selfridges' buying and merchandising director, added: "Despite the bad weather, customers have been shopping in Selfridges in high numbers and we fully expect the last couple of days before Christmas to be busier than ever."