House of Fraser announces record seasonal trading

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Department store chain House of Fraser announced record seasonal trading today despite the impact of December's Arctic weather on pre-Christmas sales.

The group, which has 61 stores in the UK and Ireland, said sales for the five weeks to January 8 were up 8.5% on a like-for-like basis, helped by the continued success of its relaunched 1960s fashion label Biba.

It said high street disruption due to the snow knocked an unspecified amount from sales but that for the first time website revenues outstripped the performance of any individual store during the peak period.

This week some of the UK's largest retailers including Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Debenhams, and Sainsbury's will report their Christmas sales figures.

HMV, Mothercare, Clinton Cards, jeweller Theo Fennell and fashion group Alexon have already issued profits warnings due to the weather, while Next estimated the snow cost it £22 million in lost sales as customers stayed at home.

However, other retailers such as John Lewis and Majestic Wine have proved that it was still possible to deliver strong sales.

House of Fraser chairman Don McCarthy described the company's festive performance as outstanding and said it reflected recent investment in the chain's own brands, as well as in technology, its stores and workforce.

He added: "I am confident that the business will deliver its plans for the remainder of the financial year, and we are well placed to continue to grow during 2011."

House brands, including the recently introduced Biba, Pied a Terre, and Label Lab, as well as established brands such as Linea, Kenneth Cole and Episode saw sales growth of more than 50% over the Christmas period.

Online sales were up by 120% after the company increased the range of products on offer and enabled shoppers to collect their purchases in store. The improvement in sales was achieved without any impact on margins.

The performance of House of Fraser will focus attention on Tuesday's update from Marks & Spencer, which is expected to report a 2% rise in like-for-like sales, including 1.5% for food and 2.5% in general merchandise.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank estimated M&S may have lost up to £70 million in sales as its older customer base was less likely to have ventured out in the treacherous conditions. Next and Mothercare have already indicated a 4% to 5% hit to sales from snow during the Christmas trading quarter.