John Lewis figures cheer the troubled high street

Retail sector bellwether John Lewis provided some cheer for the beleaguered high street yesterday by revealing a healthy rise in weekly sales.

Trading was up 7 per cent, until Saturday dragged down the weekly average to leave a year-on-year rise of 2.6 per cent in the seven days to 20 August. Takings totalled £53.4 million.

Glasgow was the best-performing department store outside London, posting an increase of 4.7 per cent, while Edinburgh was up 2.4 per cent. In contrast, the group’s third Scottish outlet, in Aberdeen, suffered a 6.7 per cent dip in sales.

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The partnership is unique among its retail peers in publishing weekly sales bulletins and, as a result, the figures can throw up anomalies.

Figures for the first three weeks of John Lewis’s financial year – which help smooth out that weekly volatility – show a 1.4 per cent overall gain.

The retailer, which has 32 stores, described the performance as “encouraging” amid signs of faltering consumer confidence and following a period of stock-market turbulence and changeable weather conditions.

The figures came a day after the Co-operative Group, which is the UK’s fifth-biggest food retailer, reported a 10 per cent decline in half-year underlying profits and its boss Peter Marks said conditions were the worst he had known in 40 years.

John Lewis said key to its resilient trading was the performance of its online business, which enjoyed sales growth of 33.3 per cent. Its flagship Oxford Street store in London was the top-performing branch, with a sales rise of 5.2 per cent, followed by Glasgow and Solihull.

Electrical and home technology sales were up 7.7 per cent, with tablets out-selling desktop PCs for the first time, while fashion sales were up 4.4 per cent with new brands driving much of the growth, and home sales down 1.7 per cent.

Simon Williams, head of corporate, sales, said: “Against a background of the country returning to post-unrest normality, media reports of falling disposable incomes, extraordinary turbulence in the financial markets and changeable weather, it was encouraging to see sales perform creditably again

“Although it sometimes seems there is uncertainty everywhere from the weather to the global financial markets, what is constant is the determination of partners across the business to give great service and secure every possible sale and the result for week three of the second half again reflects that determination.”

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Kate Calvert, a retail analyst at brokerage Seymour Pierce, said it had been an encouraging week for the chain given the “doom and gloom” news elsewhere.

At John Lewis’ supermarket offshoot, Waitrose, sales were 9.7 per cent higher than a year earlier at £95.9m.

Delia Smith’s “Gambas de queso with Majorcan tomato bread” was singled out as a particular highlight, with the tapas recipe leading to a 158 per cent rise in sales of prawns.