John Lewis sales boost optimism on high street

Some of the biggest weekly gains in sales ever seen at John Lewis have provided a boost for an embattled UK retail sector.

Although the double-digit increases were skewed by the timing of the Easter break, analysts said the underlying performance suggested some high-street resilience.

Total takings were up by 23.1 per cent to £76.7 million in the week to last Saturday, compared with a year earlier. The period this year included the Good Friday holiday, with Easter falling later in 2012.

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Of the 35 department stores that had been trading for at least a year, 34 rang up year-on-year sales growth, with several gains above 50 per cent. Glasgow was among the highest achievers, with sales up 42.4 per cent.

The cold snap that has hit Britain in recent weeks limited sales growth at the chain’s fashion division to just 4.6 per cent, however. Total online sales increased 14.6 per cent.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at think-tank IHS Global Insight, said: “The impressive John Lewis performance gives a lift to hopes that retail sales held up reasonably well in March after jumping in February, which could be a key factor in determining whether the economy managed to avoid further GDP contraction in the first quarter of 2013 and hence dodge a triple dip.”

He described the group as “very much an outperformer in the retail sector for an extended period”.

Over the nine weeks to 30 March, John Lewis’s sales were up 14.4 per cent, helped in part by its more affluent customer base.