Traders experienced a slow start to one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

A handful of shoppers were spotted in the quiet streets of Brighton and Hove as the shops opened their doors yesterday morning.

It was a far cry from the sales in the past, when scores of eager bargain-hunters would have been clamouring to get into stores such as Hanningtons and long queues would have formed outside many leading outlets even before the shops opened.

But the end of the year sale season managed to draw customers and many shops were heaving by late afternoon.

Despite the quiet morning, business picked up later in the day and traders said it was a "strong start to the season."

Stuart Wilkie, president of the Lanes Traders Association and owner of the children's clothing boutique Charlie Barley, in Meeting House Lane, Brighton, said: "There was a slow start but it improved in the afternoon.

"Typically for Brighton, people were laid back getting going this morning. There are some great bargains to be had and tomorrow is looking very promising. We're going to see a good week."

Many shops in Churchill Square opened on Boxing Day.

Square director Derek Maddison said: "There were an exceptionally high number of people about and this followed on to today. We will have to wait and see whether the takings have reflected this. It's been an extremely strong start."

Sian Jackson, commercial manager of Marks and Spencers, Brighton, said: "It's been heaving with people and there have been queues everywhere."

One George Street trader, said: "There are plenty of people about but whether they will be spending money is another matter."

Bargain hunters were being warned to remain vigilant and deter thieves taking advantage of the hordes of people.

Police community support officers have been patrolling car parks in the city centre after eight cars were broken in to during the run-up to Christmas.

A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove Police, said: "The biggest problem this year has been bags and shopping being taken from cars.

"We are warning shoppers not to leave goods and presents on view in their cars. The temptation may prove too much for the opportunistic thief."

Tips to deter thieves: Make sure your house looks occupied; use time-switches for lighting and close the curtains.

Be a good neighbour, report anything suspicious.

Remove empty boxes from outside your house they advertise valuables inside.

Keep handbags zipped and in sight.

Never leave purses on top of handbags.

Don't hang jackets with valuables in the pockets on the back of chairs.

Elsewhere in Sussex shoppers were out in force.

Crowds of bargain-hunters were spotted out on the streets of Worthing from the morning until the shops closed.

The footfall of shoppers provided a knock-on benefit to other businesses in the town.

Ian Nicholson, manager of The Vintners Parrot pub in Warwick Street, Worthing, said: "We've had record-breaking takings on food today - it has been 50 per cent up. We're only busy because the shops are."

One shopper said: "I was out Christmas Eve and today. It was far busier today."

In Crawley, shoppers flocked to County Oak Retail Park.

Ifti Haq, security manager at PC World, said: "It's been a very healthy sale day. We've just about sold out of laptop computers. Some of the stores have had record-breaking sales this Christmas."