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UK’s John Lewis enjoys strong Christmas driven by Black Friday and late demand for clothing, beauty

UK department store group John Lewis sales rose a healthy 4.8% year-on-year to £777m ($1.2bn) in the five weeks to December 27, driven by a 19% jump in online sales.

The strong figures were boosted by the introduction of Black Friday to the UK, with electricals sales key at the start of the festive season, and last-minute Christmas gift-buying late on dominated by demand for clothing. Over the five weeks, fashion sales increased 7.8%, driven by demand for knitwear and beauty, electricals were up 6.8%, and home rose 2.3%.

However, John Lewis managing director Andy Street called on UK retailers to rein in Black Friday promotions next year.

“It is not in the interests of retailers to continue to grow the pace of Black Friday at the expense of other weeks,” Street said, as he urged more general merchandise retailers, including those selling fashion and homewares, to “play it down” next year and leave the day focused on electrical goods.

He also pointed out that having a huge peak in one day it is “just more difficult to organise”.

John Lewis had earlier said Black Friday’s success had resulted in record sales during the final week of November, but then saw a lull before trading picked up in the run in Christmas.

“This year confirmed the new shape of trade for Christmas, with an early peak at the end of November driven by Black Friday and last-minute gift buying,” Street confirmed.

Street said profitability in the five-week period was similar to last year. Margins were affected by the concentration of electrical sales into the Black Friday weekend, but were helped by a late surge in clothes shopping.

Sales over the period were skewed, down 14.7% in the last fortnight, compared with a 41% rise during Black Friday week.

Some 36% of all group sales were online during the Christmas period, up from last year’s 32%, with more than half of goods ordered collected in stores via Click & Collect.

“We are very satisfied and we think that will compare well with the market,” Street said, adding: “Looking ahead, we’re planning for steady growth. But it’s not exuberant. It’s not a boom, but a modest recovery.”

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