John Lewis sales slip underlines pressure

Department store chain John Lewis fuelled fears over consumer spending yesterday after revealing a further week of sales pressure.

The group said sales excluding VAT dropped 0.5 per cent in the week to February 12, following a flat performance the previous week and a fortnight of declines at the end of January. Sales including VAT rose 1.4 per cent to £49.8m in the week.

John Lewis blamed a difficult trading day on Saturday as sporting events such as the Six Nations Rugby and Manchester football derby left shopper numbers lower, while it also came up against tougher comparatives due to the timing of Valentine’s Day trading a year earlier.

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Experts said the results were a worrying sign for consumer spending.

While official figures revealed a bounce back in retail sales last month, up 1.9 per cent in January, the John Lewis data has reinforced fears this was a one-off rebound after the snow-hit December.

Retail analyst Nick Bubb at Arden Partners said: “With even mighty John Lewis under pressure and the shadow of higher interest rates, the weak vibes about high street trading continue to make us cautious.”

John Lewis is hoping its following week figures will have received a boost from Valentine’s Day trading on the Sunday.

It saw a 10.5 per cent leap in beauty sales in the week to February 12 as shoppers snapped up romantic gifts, while men’s formal wear soared 27 per cent.

The Waitrose supermarket arm likewise received a fillip from Valentine’s Day sales, with sales excluding petrol up 5.3 per cent