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    Last-minute Christmas rush boosts shops

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    ODN

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    Retailers have reported a sales bonanza as shoppers finally ventured out on a last-minute Christmas spending spree.


    Malls and supermarkets said they were predicting record sales for the day after witnessing queues for car parks and crowded stores.


    With many forced by snow to delay shopping trips - and with a VAT hike looming - payment card group Visa Europe say they expect record-breaking levels of sales.


    While final figures will not be available until later, the group expected to process around 26.5 million transactions worth more than £1.2 billion for Thursday alone.


    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 was brisk.


    Last-minute shoppers in Birmingham did not appear to be put off by the freezing conditions.


    With the snowfall relenting, managers at the Bullring shopping centre said they were anticipating record numbers of people through the doors in the hunt for festive bargains.


    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.


    Anne Pitcher, Selfridges' buying and merchandising director, said: "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."


    The retailer said it expected more than 250,000 customers to start their festive shopping on Christmas Eve, the majority of them men.