John Lewis sales rise as school's out

LONDON - Britain's biggest department store group, John Lewis, said its good start to the 2013-14 year continued with sales increasing 17.2 percent last week, boosted by the later falling of half term school holidays in England this year.

The employee-owned group, which has been outperforming the broader retail sector for over a year, said on Friday its department store sales were 63.3 million pounds in the week to February 23.

"Half term certainly helped although for many parts of the country it was a week later than 2012 which may flatter the result slightly," said retail operations director Simon Russell.

"Nevertheless, the first four weeks of the new financial year, which gives a fair comparison, show that sales have grown an impressive 16.8 percent with good growth from both shops and online."

John Lewis said electricals and home technology sales were up 33.3 percent year-on-year, driven by demand for tablet computers. Sales in both the fashion and home categories were up 10.1 percent. Online sales increased 20.1 percent.

"We are well set to continue our good start to 2013," said Russell.

With Britain teetering on a third recession in four years many retailers have been finding the going tough as consumers fret over job security, a squeeze on incomes and government cuts.

John Lewis has consistently bucked the gloom as its generally more affluent customers have been less impacted by the downturn, while improvements to products, service and promotions, along with new modern stores, have chimed with consumers.

"John Lewis' robust performance gives a lift to hopes that there will be a general pick up in retail sales in February after a very poor performance in January which was partly due to the snow," said Howard Archer, chief economist at IHS Global Insight.

A lacklustre distributive trades survey for February from the CBI on Tuesday had hit hopes that retail sales were markedly better this month.

The group also owns upmarket grocer Waitrose, which is also outperforming its rivals. Its sales rose 7.1 percent in the week to February 23.

John Lewis will publish its 2012-13 results on March 7.

© Thomson Reuters 2014 All rights reserved.