Retailers' seasonal sales boost won't last

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The Independent Online

Hopes of a seasonal lift to retailers' gloom have been raised by record-busting weekly sales figures published yesterday by the department store chain John Lewis.

Sales of £133.1m for the week to Saturday, 17 December, are the highest weekly trade that John Lewis has ever achieved. It represents a 10.6 per cent uplift on the same week in 2010 and a 7.8 per cent increase on last week's record figure of £123.5m.

The boost was also experienced online, with John seeing a record week, with sales up 42.2 per cent on the same week last year. The firm said electronics, toys and home accessories performed well, while the cold weather helped sales of coats and outerwear.

Selfridges also reported increased sales, with food-hall trade up 30 per cent on the week. Star performer was luxury truffles, which saw a sales boost of 380 per cent, while Selfridges Hampers' sales were up 60 per cent on the year.

Meave Wall, Selfridges' store director, said: "Families were out enjoying the last weekend before Christmas."

But the Christmas cheer won't make up for a dismal month, warned the Centre for Economics and Business Research. It said December sales volumes will be down 1.7 per cent compared to the previous month.

Year on year too, December sales volumes can expect a fall of roughly 0.3 per cent, CEBR said, pointing out that last December's sales volumes were already some 1.2 per cent lower than they otherwise would have been because of the freak cold weather.

Douglas McWilliams, chief executive of CEBR, said: "Clearly, if there is a cold snap this year too then the Grinch may well steal Christmas 2011 as the bad weather keeps shoppers away, rendering even these gloomy predictions optimistic."

He blamed the situation on the VAT hike, plus rises in food and energy prices which contributed to 4.8 per cent annual inflation in November, as well as government austerity.