QUEUES of traffic laced the roads leading to shopping centres with some saying weekend trade was “the busiest ever”.
Though only five hours of trade were permitted yesterday some centres had queues of traffic an hour before opening time.
Fairhill Shopping Centre in Ballymena had more than 600 car loads of shoppers parked an hour before it opened yesterday.
According to operations and contracts manager Martin North: “Trade had been steady but the crescendo was on Friday and Saturday. It has been extremely busy over the past three days. Today (Sunday) has been the busiest day ever.
Mr North said a mild winter and early deals helped with the Christmas boost. “By the end of the day shelves were ravaged,” he said.
Joe Jordan, president of Belfast Chamber of Commerce, said it had been “a fantastic weekend”.
“It was a lot busier than the same weekend last year,” he said.
“It certainly was good and very pleasing to see that the protests were kept down to 50 to 60 people and they kept on the footpath and kept the highway clear for people to enjoy their day’s shopping.
“We are expecting all sales to start on Boxing Day and we would implore people to come in and take advantage of the sales. We are hoping that will be the busiest week of the year,” said Mr Jordan.
Meanwhile Londonderry also reported record takings as the Christmas rush hit a crescendo.
President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Philip Gilliland, said: “The place is absolutely teaming. There were queues into Foyleside and Marks and Spencer’s.”
Mr Gilliland also welcomed the return in droves of shoppers from the Republic.
“It was extremely busy. It’s great. Derry has once again become quite an attractive shopping city for people in the Irish Republic. It is great to see the good vibes about the City of Culture.
“While it is early days, I think there are green shoots of confidence in the place.”
And he added that with more people setting up technology and export businesses than before, “these are the tentative shoots of confidence”.
Indeed across the UK shops recorded record takings as millions hit the shops to stock the fridge and get hold of presents for Christmas.
All Sainsbury’s stores opened an hour earlier to allow extra browsing time.
A spokeswoman said: “December 23 is always the busiest day for Christmas shopping, so to have it condensed into six hours will obviously pose challenges.”
The supermarket giant expected to sell 225,000 bottles of champagne at the weekend, as well as 56 million mince pies, 52 million sprouts, half a million kilograms of Christmas cheese and 6,500 tonnes of potatoes over the festive period.
The British Retail Consortium predicted there would be £5 billion of retail spending over the weekend.
Richard Dodd, head of media and campaigns, said: “People have left it very late this year because of their reluctance to spend – they are holding out for bargains – and we’ve had a final weekend just before Christmas.
“It’s been a very busy weekend which will be crucial to delivering a Christmas that is acceptable, rather than exceptional.”
One million visitors were expected in London’s West End during the three-day period from Saturday to today, during which over £100 million was expected to be spent. And 400,000 men are predicted to flock to the area today alone in a rush to grab last minute presents for their families and loved ones.
Saturday was expected to have been the busiest day of the year on the high street, with one credit card company predicting more than 30 million transactions.