Boxing Day bargain-hunters were out in force yesterday for the first day of the post-Christmas sales.

The next few days will be a key time for retailers trying to make up for a lacklustre performance earlier this month.

The rush to buy last-minute presents on Christmas Eve boosted flagging sales to some extent but in Brighton late night shopping did not pick up until the week before Christmas, despite big launches in the centre of the city and the North Laine in mid-November.

The manager of GNC, a healthy living store in the Churchill Square Shopping Centre, Brighton, said: "Late night shopping didn't kick in until last Thursday but we made our target last week."

A manager at Miss Selfridge in Churchill Square said the pressure of online shopping was greater than ever.

She said: "We're told to drive online sales but that reduces footfall in the store. We have been a bit quiet this Christmas.

It's been busy in spits and spats but it's quieter than last year.

"Boxing Day is busier than an average Tuesday, the mall's packed. No one cares about staying at home anymore - it's all sale, sale, sale."

A manager at Foot Locker in the centre said sales were down 20 per cent on last Christmas.

He said: "Even Boxing Day is quiet but it was like this last year and picked up on the 27th."

Tony Hale, duty manager of Churchill Square, said the centre was "heaving with people".

He said: "The queue outside River Island was unbelievable this morning but there are quite a few stores not open."

Shopper Rochanne Siranossian, 24, from Brighton, said: "I came for Ravel's sale. Last year it was a real scrum. It's quieter this year even though more shops seem to be open and there are just as many bargains."

Most of the shops in the North Laine and The Lanes were closed yesterday.

Hampstead Bazaar and Route One clothing stores in Bond Street were the only ones open except for cafes. Jack Hutchings, deputy manager of Route One, said independent retailers had done better than last year.

He said: "Throughout the North Laine, everyone's busier.

I don't know if it was because of the Christmas lights."

There was a mixed picture around the rest of the county yesterday. Christmas Eve left traders disappointed but early indications were that Boxing Day had gone very well.

Bill Plumridge, manager of Eastbourne's Arndale Centre, said it was the first year they had opened on Boxing Day, with about half of their stores open.

He said: "We are pleasantly surprised at the number of shoppers, there were people queueing to get in at ten.

"We'll be doing Boxing Day in the future - no doubt about it - and I think there will be even more shops open."

A spokeswoman for Crawley's County Mall said said: "Most of the major traders like Boots, BHS and Debenhams are saying it was a very quiet Christmas but Boxing Day has been packed."