John Lewis has had a strong finish to a rollercoaster Christmas trading period, with a bumper sales fortnight as consumers made a late dash to the shops.

The department store group, considered a key barometer of high street spending, said sales were up 4.5% in the week to 29 December compared with the same period last year. Sales also rose 4.2% in the preceding week.

Barry Matheson, John Lewis’s head of shop trade for Scotland and the north of England, reported “very strong sales on Christmas Eve and a confident start to clearance sales both online and in shops”.

John Lewis said fashion sales surged by nearly 11% last week, while women’s handbags and other accessories were also popular, with trade up more than 20%.

Its cosmetics halls also had a late flurry, with makeup and perfume helping push sales of beauty and leisure products up 25%. Sales in the retailer’s technology departments were up 3.1% as customers treated themselves to the latest iterations of the iPad and iPhone.

However, the healthy sales figures do not provide any indication of the chain’s profitability during the most lucrative weeks of its financial year. The high street was beset by heavy discounting before Christmas and John Lewis’s “never knowingly undersold” policy forces it to match rivals’ price cuts.

The company, which is owned by staff, fell into the red in the first half of its financial year following investments in IT and new stores, and price cuts.

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John Lewis experienced big swings in trade during November and December, with a record-breaking Black Friday followed by several weeks of declining sales.

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Fears that the crucial trading period was going to be a washout for the country’s retailers were compounded by profit warnings from Asos, Bonmarché and Superdry, while the Sports Direct chief executive, Mike Ashley, warned dismal trading in November meant the high street risked being “smashed to pieces” .

Next will reveal how its sales held up on Thursday, while Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and Tesco are among the retailers due to update investors next week.



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