Bargain hunters snapped up women’s clothing and homeware in a “remarkable” start to the sales season, department store John Lewis said yesterday.

The group, which has a flagship store at Touchwood in Solihull, began its clearance sale on Saturday and saw trade rocket to a record £21.3 million - up 7 per cent on the same day last year.

Home technology and womenswear both produced record results and the company also saw strong sales in other home-related products such as china and linens.

Managing director, Andy Street said: “This is a remarkable result at any time and particularly so in this challenging economic climate. John Lewis customers are being judicious in their purchasing and recognise the outstanding quality and value of the products we have on offer, particularly in our home assortments as well as in audio-visual and fashions.”

Other retailers also saw heavy footfall over the weekend as shoppers descended on the high street in their thousands, drawn in by the anticipation of massive discounting.

In Milton Keynes, Thecentre:mk reported shoppers queuing from 3amon Saturday for the start of the John Lewis, Next and Marks & Spencer sales.

Robert Goodman, the shopping centre’s director, said more businesses chose to open on Boxing Day and those that did were 10 per cent ahead of expected sales.

He said many retailers open yesterday also achieved double-digit sales growth on last year. But, in a sign of acute nervousness in the sector, he added: “It should be remembered that this increase in footfall and spending has been on the back of discounting, the impact of which will be seen during the next couple of months.”

With stores offering huge discounts which cut deep into margins, retail experts have warned that big queues for the sales do not mean big profits.

Recent months have been a nightmare for many retailers struggling to cope with soaring costs, falling consumer spending and the credit crunch.

The festive selling season - which should be the highlight of the retail calendar - long ago turned into a bloodbath as shops fought savagely to retain market share. Discounting started weeks early and some shops have announced sales with price cuts of up to 90 per cent.