Click-and-collect brings festive cheer for John Lewis

JOHN Lewis today hailed “a genuine omni-channel Christmas” as the employee-owned department store group claimed sales records for both bricks and clicks.

Andy Street, MD of John Lewis

In a trading update for the five weeks to December 28, the recession-defying retailer said total sales were £734m, up 6.9 per cent on a like-for-like basis compared with last year.

Those like-for-like sales were up a striking 20.5 per cent on the same period in 2012.

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Shop sales increased by 1.2 per cent at Christmas 2013, while online sales for the five weeks surged by 22.6 per cent.

The website accounted for 31.8 per cent of total business during the period.

Click and collect orders stormed ahead by 61.8 per cent against the same period last year, underlining the rapid rise of the retail model.

Electricals and home technology sales were 10.7 per cent up on last year, while fashion, including beauty, was up 8.5 per cent; home sales increased by two per cent.

John Lewis said a number of records fell during the period.

Black Friday on November 29 was the biggest ever day for online orders; the final pre-Christmas week ending December 21 broke the £160m barrier for the first time; and the first day of clearance in branches on December 27 was the biggest ever day for shops and the business as a whole, taking £35.6m.

The retailer said December highlighted changing shopping habits as its prediction that this year will be the UK’s first “mobile Christmas” came true.

On Christmas Day, traffic from mobile phones and tablets made up three quarters of total traffic, overtaking that from desktops by a considerable margin.

Managing director Andy Street said: “This Christmas has seen trade take a different shape to previous years, with an early peak driven by Black Friday and a huge surge in the final 10 days.

“Many of the big online shopping days and weeks occurred earlier in the period but shops were packed in the last-minute rush on Manic Monday – December 23 – when we saw our city centre shops record peak days.

“The shift to mobile devices for online shopping has been confirmed but the in-store sale is well and truly thriving, as shown by the record first day for clearance in our shops on December 27.

“With new highs in branches as well as for, this has been a genuine omni-channel Christmas.”

He said must-have products included tablets, indoor and outdoor Christmas lights, crackers, coffee machines, gift food, Lego, hair straighteners, DAB radios, cashmere, audio streaming systems and beauty and fragrance products from brands including Liz Earle, Clarins and Chanel.

Mr Street said many customers fell in love with the retailer’s aminated Christmas advert, which was set in a winter wonderland and featured a bear and a hare and cost £7m.

The investment appears to have paid off with the advert getting more than 11.5m hits on YouTube and the soundtrack, Lily Allen’s version of Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know, reaching number one in the charts on two occasions.

Mr Street said: “Soft toy versions of the bear and hare flew off the shelves, young shoppers visited our in-store caves in droves and the book telling the story of the characters was our best-selling children’s title.

“I am extremely pleased with the results of the past five weeks. Our growth of 7.2 per cent is broadly based and we expect to have outperformed the market. It bodes well for trade in 2014.”

The retailer is developing two new stores in Yorkshire.

A spokeswoman said: “Our flexible format shop in York opens this spring, Leeds will be full line but is a couple of years away and there is no new news about Sheffield but we continue to trade from our city centre shop.”

She said trading at the Sheffield store last week was up 7.7 per cent compared with last year, and for the first six days of clearance sales the branch was up 4.2 per cent, “so the shop had a great final run in to Christmas, coupled with a strong clearance result”.

The group’s record-breaking performance contrasts sharply with the experience of Debenhams, which warned of a sharp fall in profit on Tuesday after big discounts failed to spur a surge in last-minute Christmas shopping.

In an ominous sign for rival Marks & Spencer, Britain’s second-largest department store group said it would now miss analysts’ first-half profit forecasts and would have to cut prices even further to clear stock.

A sea of red sale signs across the country’s high streets in December illustrated retailers’ battle for cost-conscious customers in a tentative economic recovery and as more people shop online.