John Lewis sounded the alarm bell for Britain's retailers yesterday when it warned that snow had hit sales.
The department store said that sales rose 6.7 per cent to £59.5m during the week ending 19 January. The previous week, the last before its post-Christmas clearance sale, they had grown by 18.7 per cent.
Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, said the data highlighted the "very real risk" that January's snow and ice could lead to the economy contracting in the first quarter of 2013 rather than growing.
"The disruption to retail sales coming from the snow and ice is the last thing that shops needed as it follows a largely lacklustre performance over Christmas and the fourth quarter of 2012," he added.
The hit to John Lewis' sales does not bode well for its weaker rivals, with the company having performed strongly during recent months.
Not only have the group's affluent customers been less impacted by the downturn, improvements to its products and services have attracted punters into its stores. Sales of electrical goods and home technology rose 29.6 per cent, while fashion and homewares fell 6.8 per cent and 1.7 per cent respectively.
The John Lewis group also owns the grocer Waitrose, which saw its sales increase by 6.3 per cent to £108.2m during the period.