Jan. 2 - A record rise in sales puts John Lewis in the front running of the Christmas high-street battle between the UK's major department stores. Online demand also helps House of Fraser to its best ever Christmas performance, but Debenhams' finance chief quits two days after a seasonal profits warning. Hayley Platt reports.
John Lewis brightened up the gloom on Britain's high street business scene with a 7.2 per cent rise in Christmas sales. A prolonged bout of bad weather and consumer caution has meant a struggle - and heavy discounting - for many retailers. But the employee-owned department store spoke of strong demand for tablet PCs through to coffee machines. Online sales jumped 22.6 per cent on a year ago - making up just under a third of total sales. They came in at 734 million pounds in the five-week Christmas retail period - including, at nearly 36 million pounds, the stores biggest ever taking on a single day. George Macdonald is editor of Retail Week. SOUNDBITE: George Macdonald, Executive Editor, Retail Week, saying (English): "They've done multi-channel really well, they've spent quite a lot of time and money making sure they've got a great online offer that works in tandem with the shops. I think they've done well with their marketing, they always make a big splash with their Christmas advert and they've got a great reputation for product quality and standards of service and I think that's stood them in good stead." Online sales also helped House of Fraser to its best-ever Christmas trading. They were up just under 58 per cent - total sales showing an increase of 7.3 per cent on a year ago. It could be a welcome sign of a turnaround for the store, which made a nearly seven million pound loss in its last year ... ... and which, according to industry sources, is attracting buyout interest from French peer, Galeries Lafayette. But analysts are predicting a tough retail environment ahead. SOUNDBITE: George Macdonald, Executive Editor, Retail Week, saying (English): "The fact is consumers don't have any more money in their pockets this year than they did last, so they're being quite selective about what they choose to buy and when they choose to buy it, so retailers really need to be more in tune with the shopper than every before." Debenhams continues to take a bruising in the Christmas high-street battle. Two days after a profit warning showing how far it had fallen behind its rivals, it has announced the departure of finance director, Simon Herrick. The warning - its second in a year - blamed heavy discounting across Britain's retail centres for a 25 per cent cut to its first-half profit forecast - although some analysts say Debenhams is also struggling due to a weaker online offer.