Retail sales rise in early week trade ahead of big freeze

Julian Harris
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JOHN Lewis and Waitrose enjoyed near-record sales last week, despite the disruption of the snow.

Waitrose admitted that sales were down on Saturday by 11 per cent, but a surge in spending earlier in the week more than made up for the effects of the weather.

“From Monday onwards customers took the weather forecast seriously and brought forward their shopping to earlier in the week,” said Waitrose’s Mark Price.

Overall the week’s sales were 25 per cent higher than at the same time in 2008.

For the second week in a row, more than £120m was spent in John Lewis branches throughout the UK. Sales at the department store had never surpassed the £120m mark before this December.

Shoppers made “heroic efforts” to get to the shops through the adverse weather conditions, John Lewis said.

“As freezing conditions spread throughout the country, sales of outerwear, hats, scarves, gloves and earmuffs have seen unprecedented increases,” said director Andrew Murphy.

Overall household spending has increased compared to last December, “despite bad weather conditions”, according to a Markit survey released today.

However, the survey warns that households have increased debt levels to support their spending, as incomes have failed to keep up with rising inflation.

Retailers hoping for a surge in expensive purchases prior to January’s VAT rise might also be disappointed.

According to Markit almost 38 per cent of households reported a drop in their willingness to spend on big ticket items.

Regional disparities are forecast to increase, the survey said, with sharp declines expected in areas most reliant on government spending. The North East saw the lowest intentions to buy big ticket items.

UK house prices fell for the sixth straight month, the survey said.