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Festive trading brings cheer to the high street

Retailers celebrated a cracking Christmas as recession-weary shoppers came out in force.

Next, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer kicked off the Christmas trading update season reporting robust clothing sales, which were followed by record-breaking results from the likes of young fashion businesses Supergroup and Republic.

Retailers benefited from pent-up demand from shoppers, a tourist influx and a strong Sale period, while margins were, on the whole, buoyed by less discounting than last year.

Department store chain John Lewis enjoyed a bumper Christmas with like-for-like sales up 12.7% for the five weeks to January 2. Fashion sales rocketed 22% over the period.

Managing director Andy Street said customers were “clearly motivated by inspiring products”.

Next’s figures came in ahead of expectations with like-for-likes up 1.6%, or a 3.2% rise including Next Directory. Chief executive Simon Wolfson said the retailer benefited from getting new product into stores quicker by sourcing closer to home.

Kidswear is understood to have driven the performance, with menswear lagging behind.

Clothing sales rose 4% at M&S, outperforming total sales performance at the retailer in the 13 weeks to December 26. Sleepwear, footwear and knitwear drove the increase and market share rose 20 basis points.

M&S executive chairman Sir Stuart Rose said: “It was a better Christmas than anyone would have predicted. Not the best and not the worst”.

High-end retailers embraced a surge in overseas visitors capitalising on the weak pound. Harrods managing director Michael Ward told Drapers the London Knightsbridge department store had a “good” Christmas. “We’ve seen the return of our local customers,” he said.

Selfridges reported a stellar Christmas with sales up 16% in December up to Christmas Day. Chief executive Paul Kelly said the post-Christmas Sale was also “great”.

The footwear sector was also bullish with most reporting double-digit like-for-like increases. Schuh managing director Colin Temple said: “We sold out of a lot of our bestsellers at full price and London put in a spectacular performance.”

Office chief executive Brian McCluskey said: “Christmas trade was fantastic - this year every department was on the money and we had good stock availability. Ugg was incredible but sports was the real driver for us. Converse was huge.”

Meanwhile, online and home-shopping retailers benefited from shoppers spending earlier and avoiding the cold weather.

Shop Direct, which operates the Very and Littlewoods home shopping businesses, saw total sales rise 6.3% for the six weeks to January 1. The group said partywear performed well, with five dresses sold each minute in the run-up to Christmas.

Sarah Curran, founder of etailer My-Wardrobe, said December was its best ever and its first to generate sales of more than £1m.

However, Christmas was a turkey for some, with young fashion chain D2 falling foul of the difficult trading conditions during the recession.

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