Sales at the UK's biggest department store group, John Lewis, rose nearly 5 percent in the Christmas rush, driven by the ''Black Friday'' frenzy and by last-minute gift-buying. As David Pollard reports, it's the first update in a week which also sees Tesco setting out plans to rescue its fortunes.
You may have been dreaming of a white Christmas. What many got was Black Friday. But for John Lewis, at least, some record figures along with it. The late November deep discount day helped deliver its most lucrative week in 150 years of history. Overall, sales at Britain's biggest department store group hit 777 million pounds in the five weeks before December 27th. That's up nearly five percent on the previous year. Last-minute gift-buying helped. And online business was up 19 percent, now accounting for over a third of all sales. John Lewis is the first in a week of big UK retailers reporting their Christmas numbers. Jane Foley of Rabobank says it may well the best. SOUNDBITE (English) JANE FOLEY, SENIOR STRATEGIST, RABOBANK, SAYING: ''From John Lewis we've had fairly good results. Again, they mention the Black Friday effect, a fairly new occurrence for the UK market, but of course later in the week the market is preparing for some more sluggish numbers from other retailers in the UK - Sainsburys, Marks and Spencers and of course Tesco's among them. And that should give us a clearer picture of the whole of the sector in the run-up to Christmas.'' And attention is already turning from John Lewis to Dave Lewis. Tesco's embattled boss is due to report on Thursday. Newspaper reports suggest deep job cuts are in the pipeline. Along with the scrapping of the system of supplier contracts based on rebates that's been at the centre of the supermarket's accounting scandal. SOUNDBITE (English) JANE FOLEY, SENIOR STRATEGIST, RABOBANK, SAYING: ''What Tesco bring to the market this week is clearly going to be extremely crucial. What we've been told that is that they will be looking to save a lot of costs in terms of its supply chain. But I think in the broader perspective we've had a supermarket price war and of course that has impacted Tesco along with other retailers in that market and that could carry on for a while yet so Tesco's problems are unlikely to diminish any time soon.'' As for Black Friday - despite its boost to John Lewis, group MD Andy Street questioned whether it was healthy for UK retail to bank so much on one day's business. He told the BBC that Black Friday may even have reached a ''high water mark''. Good news for some shoppers who perhaps felt they were not so much waving, as drowning.