Jul 20, 2012
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John Lewis trade lifted by sale, rain and Olympics

Jul 20, 2012

John Lewis, Britain's biggest department store group, posted another double-digit rise in weekly sales, as its summer sale and poor weather encouraged customers to part with their cash, with spend related to the Olympics a focus.

Photo: John Lewis

The employee-owned firm said on Friday department store sales increased 17.3 percent year-on-year to 70.3 million pounds ($110.4 million) in the week to July 14.

"The final week of clearance (sale), coupled with the continuation of the inclement weather, saw customers picking up bargains as a form of retail therapy," said operations director Dino Rocos.

The total increase was powered by a 37 percent rise in sales in the electricals and home technology category as Britons limbered up for the London Games by buying new televisions. Food blenders, coffee machines, iPads and Kindles also sold well.

Fashion sales rose 12.3 percent, with London 2012 merchandise driving a 39 percent jump in sportswear sales.

Sales in the home category increased 8.9 percent, while online sales soared 51 percent.

John Lewis, which has a bias to the south east of England, has set the pace in the sector this summer as the deluge of rain has driven footfall from the high street to the covered shopping malls where its stores are often located. Wet and cold weather is also favourable for its key household goods business.

On Thursday the wider impact of Britain's sodden summer was laid bare by weak sales updates from major retailers, including Kingfisher, Halfords, JJB Sports and Mothercare, showing that the wettest April to June period since records began had hurt already weak demand in an economy showing few signs of pulling out of recession.

Official retail data also indicated that celebrations to mark Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee failed to provide the much hyped and hoped-for boost to spending, raising the question of whether the London Olympics will get the shop tills ringing.

John Lewis has also been outperforming the wider market because its generally more affluent customers have been less impacted by Britain's double dip recession, while improvements to product and service and new modern stores have chimed with consumers.

The firm's sales numbers are, however, flattered by the fact it has more shops than last year and by higher prices because of inflation. Also electrical items tend to have relatively low profit margins.

John Lewis also owns upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose. Here week to July 14 sales rose 6.9 percent to 108.2 million pounds.

Waitrose said it would support British farmers, who have struggled with the rain this summer, by selling fruit and vegetables that are "cosmetically imperfect" but taste fine.

"It's important that we support farmers and growers wherever possible, which could include accepting shorter carrots, thinner parsnips or smaller strawberries than usual," said commercial director Mark Williamson.

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