Sales flop at John Lewis

Another grim week for John Lewis equals more wailing and gnashing of teeth on the high street...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

John Lewis, the retailer often seen as a high street bellwether, said today that store sales were down a painful 8.3% last week – despite the start of its annual summer clearance, it shifted just £53m of stock. Although food and clothing sales held up reasonably well, sales of household goals were down 13%, while electricals plunged nearly 16%. And after a pretty summery week across most of the UK, it can’t even blame the weather…

To be fair to John Lewis, it was up against a tough comparison: in the same week last year, sales shot up nearly 10%. And on Saturday (which John Lewis counts as the last day of the week), the first day of the sale, it had to contend with glorious sunshine and lots of sport on TV – the result being that despite a ‘really encouraging’ day, sales still fell well short of the equivalent day in 2007 (though admittedly last year was an all-time record). ‘There is no doubt that trade in our shops proved challenging when compared to exceptional results last year,’ the retailer conceded this morning.

There was some good news: its website sold 20% more stuff than last year, while fashion recorded a relatively healthy 2.2% increase and upmarket food store Waitrose delivered a 3% rise. This is particularly impressive in the light of the miserable results for Marks and Spencer’s food division last quarter, where sales were down 5% - it looks as though Waitrose shoppers are proving rather more brand-loyal (or richer, possibly). Recently-deposed M&S food boss Steven Esom, who left Waitrose to join M&S last year, must be wishing he’d stayed put.

But it’s clear to see where John Lewis is struggling, with sales of household items like sofas and TVs both well down – in other words, the kind of ‘big ticket’ purchases that prudent shoppers might want to put off at a time when bills are rocketing. And just to compound matters, the soaring price of fuel also seems to be discouraging shoppers from going to the big out-of-town retail parks (for example, sales at JL Bluewater were down by an eye-watering 25%), where many of these products are sold.

Still, it will presumably be some consolation for JL that M&S is even worse off. And it will have been further cheered by news that MPs have voted to keep themselves in clover by retaining the ‘John Lewis list’, which uses the retailer as a benchmark for home furniture prices. So it can expect some more website orders from Parliament Square in the next few months – after all, those hefty expenses accounts won’t spend themselves...

Also in today's bulletin:

TPG walk-out sparks crisis at B&B
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MT's week in 60 seconds

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