John Lewis enjoyed a strong finish to a rollercoaster Christmas trading period banking a bumper sales fortnight as shoppers made a late dash to the shops.
The department store group, which is considered to be key barometer of high street spending, said sales were up 4.5% in the week to 29 December compared with the same period last year. Sales were also up 4.2% in the preceding week.
Barry Matheson, John Lewis’s head of shop trade for Scotland and the north, reported “very strong sales on Christmas Eve and a confident start to clearance sales both online and in shops”.
John Lewis said fashion sales surged by nearly 11% last week while women’s handbags and other accessories also flew out the door, with trade up by more than a fifth. Its cosmetics halls also enjoyed a late rush, with sales of make-up and perfume, helping boost sales of beauty and leisure products by 25%. Sales in its technology departments were up 3.1% as customers treated themselves to latest iterations of the iPad and iPhone.
However, the healthy sales figures do not provide any indication of the chain’s profitability during the most lucrative weeks of its financial year. The high street was beset by heavy discounting before Christmas and John Lewis’s “never knowingly undersold” policy forces it to match rivals price cuts. The chain, which is owned by staff, fell into the red in the first half of its financial year as invested in IT, new stores and price cuts.
John Lewis suffered big swings in trade during November and December with a record breaking Black Friday followed by several weeks of declining sales.
Fears that the crucial trading period was going to be a washout for the country’s retailers were compounded by profit warnings from Asos, Bonmarché and Superdry while Sports Direct boss, Mike Ashley, warned that dismal trading in November meant the high street risked being “smashed to pieces” .
Tomorrow Next will reveal how its sales held up while household names, including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Tesco, are due to update investors next week.