Sold on sales for bagging best bargains

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THE Boxing Day sales have become a popular tradition for the Capital's residents but this year consumers were treated to discounts on the high street before December 26, when retailers tried to take advantage of the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy to get rid of their old stock.

And on Christmas Day, many of the big retailers including Marks & Spencer, Comet and PC World, began their online sales – resulting in 84 million of business by 4.4 million shoppers in one day alone. The traditional Boxing Day queues were nowhere to be seen as many of the best bargains had already been snapped up.

But rewind 50 or so years and braving the harsh conditions to bag a bargain was as much a part of the festive ritual as eating turkey.

In the 1960s, the seasonal sales began in January as the Capital's shops cleared out their old stock to make way for the new spring and summer collections. Stores put their red sale signs up on around January 5. McEwan's furniture shop on the High Street was a prime destination for the bargain hunters. Here they could snap up household pieces such as tables and drawers, as in our picture, and rather than the several hundred – or thousand pounds – retailers now charge, a fashionable suite was available for as little as a farthing in 1968.

The Leith Provident cooperative on Great Junction street – known merely as the 'store' by locals – was another popular destination, with hoards of shoppers snapping up ironing boards, furniture and clothes.

It was famed for its overhead wires that transported little shuttles of cheques and money to the cashier, with the receipt and change coming back the same way.

The shuttle was sent by pulling down on a wooden handle and throughout the first week in January every year, the shuttle was used endlessly as women shopped and husbands patiently waited – as our 1968 picture shows.

With more stock and a higher turnaround, by the 1980s many high street retailers began their sales earlier to make way for new lines. And so, Boxing Day became the new January sales and the year's single biggest sales period. Stores such as Debenhams would be packed with shoppers in search of bargains, but Jenners, the grand old lady of Princes Street was the ultimate destination for sale shoppers and, during the 1980s crowds would queue from the early hours of the morning.

Today, with more sales throughout the year, special offers and tempting discounts, the lure of the annual Boxing Day sales is decreasing. But, no matter whether it's Christmas 1968 or Christmas 2008, the thrill of finding a bargain remains.