Waitrose beats freeze with best ever Christmas sales figures

SUPERMARKET chain Waitrose said it has recorded its best Christmas sales this year, despite icy weather that disrupted travel and cut the number of shoppers at stores.

The retailer said like-for-like December sales rose by 5.4 per cent compared with the same period last year, helped by strong demand for luxury Christmas products as well as store cupboard staples such as long-life milk.

The upbeat figures appear to buck the trend for most UK retailers, which have struggled to maintain sales during the coldest start to winter for years.

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Big public spending cuts, high unemployment and tight credit conditions have contributed to weak consumer confidence in recent months.

Waitrose's managing director, Mark Price, said: "It's been a rollercoaster ride at times with big day-to-day variations in sales as customers have either stocked up ahead of the snow or caught up with their shopping when the freezing weather eased."

Waitrose has 241 stores, including shops in Sheffield, Willerby, Otley, Harrogate, Leeds and York, and employs more than 43,000 staff.

Data from the market research company Synovate said UK

shopper numbers between December 22 and December 24 were down 6.1 per cent this year compared to the same period in 2009.

Final figures for the month of December are expected to be worse than the 4.2 per cent decline on last year that Synovate had originally forecast. Most shops are hoping to pick up sales in the last few days of the year before a rise in the VAT sales tax to 20 per cent from 17.5 per cent that comes into force on January 4.

Retailers are trying to entice shoppers with big discounts heavily advertised on television and in the Press.

Waitrose's parent company, John Lewis, said sales in the week to Christmas Day rose by 30.6 per cent compared to the same period last year, to reach 97.1m.

Maggie Porteous, John Lewis's head of selling operations, said: "Due to the fall of the calendar we traded for six days in the final week this year compared with five last year, however this is still a fantastic result."