Department store John Lewis provides Christmas trading snapshot

A surge in shoppers looking for last-minute gifts helped lift sales at John Lewis over the festive period as the retailer gave the first glimpse of how trading fared over Christmas.

In the week to December 29, sales at the department store chain were up 4.5%, driven by a 103% increase in gift food purchases.

The John Lewis gifts, cooking and dining segment also had a stellar week, with sales up 25%.

The retailer said it was boosted by shoppers buying last-minute Christmas presents, adding that it experienced “very strong sales on Christmas Eve and a confident start to clearance sales both online and in shops”.

Fashion sales grew 10.7%, with a strong performance in women’s cashmere, but home sales were down 2.3%. Figures for the week to December 22 show that John Lewis sales were up 4.2%.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb calculated that like-for-like sales were up 2% over the two-week period, but cautioned that this would have been “driven by discounting”.

If Waitrose top-line sales were a bit weak at Christmas as they protected margins, the John Lewis picture looks to have been the other way round, with LFL sales c2% up over the last key 2 weeks, but driven by discounting

— Nick Bubb (@NickBubb1) January 2, 2019

Meanwhile, sales at sister company Waitrose rose 19.2% last week, helped by a surge in Christmas dinner shopping.

However, in the week prior, to 22 December, sales slumped 11.7%, although the group cautioned that the figures were “heavily distorted” by the timing of Christmas and New Year and the numbers are in line with expectations.

John Lewis said that a more meaningful picture of its performance for the six weeks to December 29 will be released on January 10.

The figures come ahead of what is expected to be another tough year for department store chains following a disastrous 2018 that saw House of Fraser collapse and Debenhams issue a string of profit warnings.

The John Lewis Partnership itself revealed in September a 98.8% crash in half year profits as it battles against “challenging times” and the most promotional market for nearly a decade.

Retailers across the board have been battling the rise of online shopping, higher costs and plummeting consumer confidence as shoppers rein in spending amid Brexit uncertainty.

Notable high street names such as Poundworld, ToysRUs and Maplin went bust in 2018, while the likes of Marks & Spencer announced plans to shutter stores.

Several others, including Superdry, Carpetright and Card Factory, have issued profit warnings.

Among the bevvy of firms reporting festive figures over the coming weeks are Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Ted Baker, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Dixons Carphone.

Next will kick off the festive reporting season proper with its results on Thursday.