John Lewis director says consumers losing ‘fear’

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Department store operator John Lewis believes that consumers are slowly becoming less fearful about their financial prospects, adding to optimism that a spate of relatively upbeat economic news can be sustained.

Recent forecast-beating gross domestic product data, manufacturing, construction and services sector surveys have eased pressure on the UK government to water down its austerity programme.

Andrew Murphy, retail director at employee-owned John Lewis, said: “The economy has settled in a place which is not nearly as good as it used to be. But people now don’t feel scared, whereas three years ago they were genuinely scared about what this new reality meant.”

The chain, which has Scottish stores in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, has traditionally been seen as a bellwether retailer but has been outperforming the wider market for about three years.

Though an industry survey last week showed UK retail sales fell unexpectedly in April, hurt by an earlier Easter this year, the underlying trend appears to be improving.

Murphy reckons the slightly better consumer psyche will be reflected in increased spending on homewares and furniture.

“My sense is that home will strengthen a bit this year, something we couldn’t have said for either of the last three years,” he said, also pointing to signs of life in Britain’s housing market.

John Lewis, which has 30 department stores, nine smaller “at home” branches, and an online business, posted sales growth of 10.4 per cent in its first quarter.