Boxing Day sales fever underway as 2,000 people queue outside Next store

[gallery] Thousands of shoppers queued for hours to grab the best bargains as the Boxing Day sales got under way throughout the Black Country and Staffordshire today.

Boxing Day sales fever underway as 2,000 people queue outside Next store

Up to 2,000 people lined up outside the Next store at the Merry Hill centre as queues began in the the early hours across the region.

Shoppers in the UK were set to spend up to £3 billion today with almost four million shoppers expected to head to the high street and another five million searching for bargains online.

Two thousand people were lined up outside Next at the Merry Hill Centre near Dudley when the doors opened for business at 6am while the first arrivals began congregating at the chain's sister shop in at St John's Retail Park in Wolverhampton five hours earlier.

Long queues also built up at Debenhams at Merry Hill in time for its 7am opening and the story was the same at the nearby branch of Matalan.

Shoppers started queuing outside Next at Crown Wharf Shopping Park in Walsall at 2am.

Around 500 people were outside the store's doors when it opened, and scores of shoppers were still queuing outside the shop hours later

Miriam Owen, manageress of Next at Wolverhampton where 700 waited for the 6am start to its half price sale, said: "It never ceases to amaze me how early people come to start queuing but everybody loves a bargain. Our Boxing Day sale is a fixture in the calendar of many shoppers and we see the same faces in the queue year after year."

Student Becky Knowles, aged 21 from Market Lane, Lower Penn and her 14-year-old sister Vicky were among those queuing.

They emerged from the store wreathed in smiles and weighted down with bags full of bargains.

She said: "I have spent £135 on cardigans, boots, shoes and pyjamas while Vicky paid around £40 on a jumper and necklace. We are both delighted with the buys. We got up at 4.30am but it was well worth the effort. Now we can go back to bed feeling happy."

More than 200,000 bargain shoppers descended on the Bullring in Birmingham in the early hours of today with queues forming just after midnight - six hours before the first stores were open.

Around a dozen people queued outside River Island in the Guildhall Shopping Centre in Stafford to snap up 50 per cent-off bargains. Everything in the shop was half-price.

Top Shop also launched its Boxing day sale with customers filling the aisles from 8am.

But despite the tills jingling today, more shoppers flocked to the web rather than the shops to buy presents. High-street retailers are facing the threat of closure, business recovery group Begbies Traynor has warned.

Almost 140 firms were in a critical condition in the fourth quarter, meaning they are on the brink of collapse, while more than 13,700 were in "significant" distress - up 35 per cent during the three months to December 17, the Begbies Traynor report said.

Meanwhile, high-street spending was "acceptable but not exceptional" in the run-up to Christmas, according to the British Retail Consortium.

The BRC's head of media and campaigns Richard Dodd said poor accessibility on high streets, a lack of parking and weak consumer demand were to blame rather than an increase in online shopping.

But he acknowledged that some high-street retailers would "undoubtedly" fail after Christmas.

"Retail sales over the weekend have been up to expectations but expectations were relatively modest," said Mr Dodd.

"Christmas will turn out to be acceptable but not exceptional.

"There are a lot of myths around online retail. Ten per cent of overall retailing over the year comes from online shopping and actually it presents lots of opportunities for the retail sector."

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