London stores buck trend with big pre-Christmas sales

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LONDON and the South-east, which have suffered more from the recession than other parts of the country, appear determined to splash out for Christmas, writes William Kay.

While the Confederation of British Industry was reporting few signs of pre-Christmas activity in the shops last week, big London department stores said turnover was 10 to 15 per cent ahead of this time last year.

'It's the best Christmas for five years,' said Michael Cole, a Harrods spokesman. 'Our buyers are saying it's back to the high old days of the 1980s.' Best-sellers include business gifts, especially food hampers, where sales are 25 per cent up.

There was a similar picture at Selfridges, part of Sears. 'Just for once,' said Tim Daniels, the store's managing director, 'we may be out of step with the rest of the country, partly because of the tourist business. There are still a lot of tourists around, (who) enable Oxford Street to buck the trend.'

Both stores say their best departments are perfume and cosmetics, along with handbags and scarves.

A John Lewis spokesman said the week ending 11 December brought a record turnover of almost pounds 47m: 'Central London once again provided the principal momentum as John Lewis and Peter Jones both secured double-figure increases.'

(Photograph omitted)