Independent department stores reported overwhelmingly upbeat trading during Christmas and the Sales, although fashion was rarely a highlight.
Deborah McMinn, group merchandise director of Tudor Williams in Surrey, said: "Trade was steady in November and December, with fantastic sales in the week before Christmas. Beds, gifts and cosmetics were strong, but clothing has been slower and we are still waiting for the really cold weather to kick in."
One executive said independent department stores were benefiting from customers returning to quality middle-market offers as typified by Marks & Spencer and John Lewis.
Jonathan Christie, managing director of Williams & Griffin in Colchester, Essex, said: "This is generally a good time for older customers in department stores and we had a staggeringly good season. We're up about 7% or 8%. But fashion was tough."
Allders of Croydon chief executive Andrew Mackenzie said the store posted a 4.4% rise in like-for-likes for the 13 weeks to the end of December, despite mega-Sale days from rival stores in the area. "In the week before Christmas we hit a record £3 million in turnover. Christmas trading was very late in coming but in that last full week everyone started spending."
Gerald Voisin, owner of Voisins department store in Jersey, said he had kept stock levels tight during autumn, a strategy echoed by other independents.
In Dublin, Arnotts boss David Riddiford was already assessing plans for Christmas next year after the store posted positive figures for the first time in recent years. "We're very much in transition. Next year we will look at our Sale discounting levels and whether to open on New Year's Day," he said.