BARGAIN hunters turned out as early as 5am to cash in on the start of the Boxing Day sales.

Shopping centres and department stores across Scotland were mobbed as retailers slashed prices in a bid to make up for slow trading during the year.

Thousands of shoppers flocked to stores, some of which opened at 6am yesterday, in a rush to grab cut-price goods.

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The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) – which has called on the Government to freeze business rates – called 2012 one of the most challenging years for sales.

However, there was little sign of that as people queued outside Braehead shopping centre near Glasgow an hour before stores opened at 6am.

General manager Peter Beagley said: "The Boxing Day tradition of hitting the shops to grab a bargain or two is very much alive and well.

"The early birds were up and out to catch the best deals and shoppers were queuing up at 5am waiting for stores to open.

"There was quite a bit of anticipation among those waiting for shop doors to open so they could bag a bargain."

There were similar scenes at Union Square in Aberdeen which has had some of its busiest shopping days this month, with 1.2 million people through the centre before Christmas.

General manager Ryan Manson said: "The centre has been exceptionally busy since doors opened this morning and we saw queues outside stores including Next, Zara, Hollister and New Look. Shoppers are out in large numbers suggesting the in-store discounts and sales are generating lots of interest."

Princes Street in Edinburgh and Buchanan Street in Glasgow were also busy with shoppers, while a spokesman for East Kilbride shopping centre said it was having one of its busiest ever days.

Harvey Nichols, in St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, had security measures in place after 600 shoppers stampeded through a side door in 30 seconds last year.

A spokesman said: "A lot of handbags have been marked down by up to 50%. That's where you see the swarms heading first, before the shoes. It's bedlam. Last year we sold out of all Gucci and Prada sale items."

Kathy Murdoch, centre manager of Buchanan Galleries in Glasgow, said: "The sales have got off to a great start with shoppers eager to find a bargain.

"The Next sale always draws a big crowd and this year was no exception with more than 300 people queuing up from the early hours. There have also been queues outside Hollister for most of the day.

"Judging by the shopping bags it looks like fashion items and clothing have been the big sellers of the day."

More crowds are expected at Buchanan Galleries when the John Lewis sale starts today.

The Glasgow Fort shopping centre in Easterhouse also cashed in. Phil Goodman, its centre manager, said there had been about 50,000 customers at the mall yesterday.

As well as the millions of shoppers across the UK hitting the high streets, even more are expected to be searching for bargains online. The growth in smart phones and tablets has been identified as part of the reason for the internet shopping increase. Over the past five years, Amazon's UK website said it had seen sales on Christmas Day increase by 263%.