John Lewis has staked a strong claim to be the high street's Christmas winner by posting record sales over the festive period, driven by a scorching online performance.
The department store chain's star category was electricals, as John Lewis benefited from the demise of Comet, which closed all its 236 stores before Christmas.
In the retail sector's first major statement on Christmas trading, the 39-store retailer saw total sales rise 14.8 per cent to £684.8m over the five weeks to 29 December, while they were up by 13 per cent on a like-for-like basis.
The figures are almost certain to eclipse its high street rivals, and will raise hopes of a bumper bonus for staff at the John Lewis Partnership, which also owns the grocer Waitrose.
JLP paid its 81,000 employees a bonus of 14 per cent, equal to more than seven weeks' pay, from a pot of £165m in 2012. While this year's payout should be higher, as Waitrose also toasted record festive sales, a John Lewis spokesman said it was "too early" to comment on the bonus for the 12 months to 26 January.
Andy Street, the managing director of the department store, said it had benefited from a "surge" in online sales and shoppers placing its "trust" in the chain, particularly for its price promise, follow-up service and warranty guarantee on electricals after Comet's collapse in November. John Lewis' electricals sales jumped by 30.9 per cent, while fashion was up by 10.4 per cent and its homeware department grew by 6.2 per cent.
Mr Street said its website had enjoyed three "mega Mondays" in a row from 3 December, with total online sales higher by 44.3 per cent over the five weeks. He said: "Sales at johnlewis.com broke through the £800m milestone during December."
He expects "very small growth" in consumer spending this year, and forecast a more subdued 5 per cent rise in like-for-like sales at John Lewis in 2013. He explained that the chain would be up against last year's "incredibly strong" sales, which were helped by the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and digital switchover, which boosted its sales on electricals.