Festive bargain hunters flooded shops the country on Boxing Day as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that overall Christmas trading is expected to be slightly up on last year.

Despite a Tube strike in London, footfall in the West End was up by a third on last year, according to the New West End Company, which represents retailers in the area.

It was the third successive year that a Tube strike has been called on Boxing Day.

Shopping centres around the country opened their doors early to take advantage of the swathes of bargain hunters, with thousands of shoppers gathering shortly after midnight at malls including Westfield in London, Bluewater in Kent and Birmingham’s Bullring, according to the BBC.

Retailers including Debenhams, Selfridges and Next were offering discounts of up to 50%.

Despite expecting overall Christmas sales to be slightly up on last year after a last minute rush by cautious shoppers and growth in online purchases, Helen Dickinson, the new director general of the BRC, said sales were “hard-fought and often driven by discounts so cutting into margins”.

Dickinson added: “As we look to the New Year, utility prices are likely to edge up inflation and people are keen to continue paying down their debt, which means the amount of money they have in their pockets will remain under pressure.

“So, 2013 will be characterised by more of the same and there’s every sign that the ongoing endurance test for retailers of trading in a largely no-growth environment is likely to continue well into next year.”

Online sales buoyed overall performance for retailers this Christmas, said Dickinson.

She said web sales “accelerated” as shoppers “took advantage of the investment that many retailers have made” in improving delivery options, click and collect and online security.

As the post-Christmas sales begin, Dickinson said: “Overall, Christmas hasn’t been a boom time for UK retailers but it hasn’t been complete doom and gloom either.

“There are big variations in individual retail performances but, when the final sums are done, total spending is likely to be up modestly on last year though only broadly in line with shop price inflation.  

“As always, there was a last minute Christmas rush. It came later this year because hard-pressed customers remain cautious, wanted to hold out for bargains and there was a final full shopping weekend immediately before Christmas that the calendar didn’t provide last year.

“But, generally, customers bought only similar amounts to last year.”