Weather and sale boosts trade at John Lewis

JOHN Lewis, the UK’s biggest department store chain, reported higher weekly sales, as cool wet weather drove customers into its shops and its summer sale boosted trade.

The employee-owned business said department store sales increased 3.7 per cent to £59.9m in the week to July 16 and were up 2.1 per cent excluding VAT sales tax.

Sales at its Sheffield store were down four per cent.

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Separately, John Lewis said it would step up the pace of its expansion by opening at least 10 new “flexible format” department stores.

York has been mentioned as a potential site for one of the 10 stores, but John Lewis declined to comment.

The store chain, which has been outperforming rivals for over a year, said: “Continued mixed weather helped drive a solid final week for clearance.

“The total clearance period has been a success story with customers taking advantage of more special buys.

“Even excluding the additional two days at the start, sales have been comfortably up on last year,” it said.

Shoppers are grappling with rising prices, subdued wages growth, a lack of credit, job insecurity, a stagnant housing market, Government austerity measures and fears of interest rate rises.

IHS Global Insight chief economist Howard Archer said: “It will be interesting to see how John Lewis’ sales perform now that its clearance sale is coming to an end.

“The suspicion is that sales will soften in the face of ongoing consumer pressures and caution.”

The new format stores, which will be half to two thirds of the size of existing shops, will sell a full John Lewis assortment and will be tailored to suit different locations.

John Lewis will make up for the lack of space by introducing computer terminals so customers can order goods online.

The first store will open in Exeter city centre in 2012 .

Andy Street, John Lewis’s managing director, said: “There is a huge potential, and a clear demand from customers, for John Lewis to expand into more key locations in the UK.

“This new flexible approach to the size of our shops allows us to forge ahead with our growth plans to introduce John Lewis branches and our full-line assortment to cities and towns where we have long wanted to have a presence.”