John Lewis reports improved Christmas trading

By Graeme Evans, PA
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The Independent Online

Department store chain John Lewis today reported improved Christmas trading and said it had been a record week for online shopping.

While sales for the week to Saturday were down 6.7% on a year earlier, the performance represents an improvement on the rate of around 13% seen during much of November.

In-store sales improved 20% on the previous seven days as trading entered the peak season and shoppers responded to a 2.5% reduction in VAT and price cuts across the high street, matched by the chain's Never Knowingly Undersold pledge.

The weekly figures from John Lewis provide a useful barometer to how the high street is faring this Christmas in the face of the economic slump.

The pressure on the sector has been highlighted by discounting activity, with Marks & Spencer holding two 20% off sales and Debenhams among others to slash prices. Administrators for Woolworths reduced some prices last week by 50%, resulting in the busiest day in the ailing chain's 99-year history.

John Lewis selling operations director Nat Wakeley described the week's trading as "much stronger".

He added: "The next two weeks are absolutely crucial for us and all high street retailers, but we are confident that the upward sales trend will continue."

The online business bettered its previous sales record - established in the week to December 15 - by £500,000. Stay-at-home shoppers were particularly keen on Christmas decorations, furnishing accessories, home electronics and toys.

Monday is expected to be the biggest day ever for online sales at johnlewis.com.

One of the week's best sellers was again Biscuit the Dog, a life size electronic toy retriever puppy which John Lewis has been selling in record numbers.

The department store business trades from 27 sites and forms part of the John Lewis Partnership, which owns supermarket chain Waitrose.

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