Sales fever hit the nation yesterday as shopping centres throughout the country enjoyed a festive sales boom.

Thousands braved icy-cold temperatures to queue outside their favourite shops from the early hours.

In Birmingham, 27,500 people passed through the Bullring shopping centre during the first hour of trading, with many flocking to Selfridges to get their hands on designer bargains.

The pattern was repeated across the country, with the first cars arriving at the Lakeside Shopping Centre in Essex at 5am, while Maggie Porteous, managing director of John Lewis at the Trafford Centre in Manchester, said takings at 3pm were 53 per cent up on Boxing Day last year.

"It is abnormally good, especially as it's only the second year we've opened on Boxing Day," she said. "All the car parks were full by midday."

An estimated 130,000 people visited the 235-shop Trafford Centre, which it said was a Boxing Day record.

The Bluewater shopping centre in Kent saw more than 75,000 visitors in search of discounts of up to 70 per cent at some of its 330 stores.

But the centre's head of marketing, Linsey Wooldridge, said yesterday was a "warm-up" for today, when about 175,000 people are expected to pass through its doors.

In addition to the shopping centres, a record number of supermarkets were open for business yesterday.

For the first time Somerfield opened almost all of its 900 stores. A spokesman said: "Virtually all of our stores are opening unless they are in closed shopping centres.

"It is the first time they have all opened on Boxing Day. We run smaller convenience stores, and as we are in that sector we have found our customers want easy access to top up on things they have run out of."

The sales at Birmingham's Bullring will continue throughout the remainder of December. Opening hours are 9.30am to 8pm during the week and 9am to 8pm on Saturday and 11am to 5pm on Sunday.

* Four out of five people will find themselves bargain-hunting in the winter sales, new research has found.

And, contrary to popular belief, men are just as keen to hit the shops as women, banking giant HSBC discovered.

Their sales survey found 86 per cent of women will venture to the sales, compared with 85 per cent of men.

However, men and women differ in their motivation for visiting the sales.

Whilst almost two-thirds of men (65 per cent) are looking to save money on a particular item, 75 per cent of female shoppers will simply be hoping to bag a bargain.

More than half of women (52 per cent) said they would be taking the opportunity to buy something exclusive or aspirational which they would not normally indulge in.