Retailers reported a bumper start to the Christmas trading season as shoppers defied the ice-cold weather and hit the high street.

Customers started the Christmas season with zeal, with big names reporting a 10 per cent hike on last year’s sales, and took advantage of promotional offers.

Big names including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Currys, Argos and House of Fraser slashed prices by up to 50 per cent over the weekend in a bid to draw in customers.

Official figures recently revealed retail sales were picking up momentum ahead of Christmas, but economists expect consumers are also looking to make purchases before the January VAT increase from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent.

Department store group John Lewis - which has a flagship store in Solihull - said shoppers throughout the country were not deterred by plummeting temperatures and saw sales last week total £99.9 million, up 13 per cent on the previous week and 8.7 per cent on last year.

The group said toys and digital items were the strongest sellers, with scooters, Butterscotch the animatronic pony, iPods and cameras among the most popular products.

Nat Wakely, director of selling operations for John Lewis, said: “This week has focused not only on small children but those bigger kids too for whom gadgets and electronics are looking like top gifts.”

Waitrose, which is owned by the John Lewis Partnership, saw sales of £103 million in the week ending on Saturday, an 11 per cent increase on the same week last year.

The spending spree is expected to continue today with so-called “Mega Monday” tipped to be the busiest day of the year for online shopping.

Consumers are expected to spend £265 million online on credit and debit cards following Friday’s end-of-month payday, according to credit and debit card company Visa.

Accountancy firm Deloitte predicted 15 per cent growth in online retail sales this Christmas, taking online retail spend to £8 billion in December, or 23% of total retail sales.

Richard Dodd, spokesman for the British Retail Consortium, said: “There’s more discounting and promotions going on in response to the difficult situation facing consumers, such as VAT and national insurance rises.

“People are reluctant to make major spending commitments, so retailers are working extra hard with lots of discounting.”