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Britain’s bruised retailers received a timely boost on Tuesday when John Lewis reported a rise of 11.7 per cent in store sales for the 31-day period up to Christmas compared to the same period last year, while the nation’s retail parks and shopping centres swarmed with sales-hungry customers.

After reporting a 21 per cent slump in profits in the six months to the end of July, John Lewis said the pre-Christmas week was the 10th in a row when sales were ahead of last year.

The retail partnership said sales were enhanced by having a sixth day of trading in Christmas week because of Christmas day falling on a Sunday. Excluding the extra day, however, sales from November 24 up until Christmas were still up 9.2 per cent on the 2004 equivalent.

The John Lewis figures raises hopes the retail sector has seen off a sustained period of weak demand, declining profits and insolvencies.

“Only three months ago we were going through the worst conditions for 15 years,” said Charlie Mayfield, managing director of John Lewis. “But there has been a marked shift since the beginning of November.

Another of Britain’s leading retailers said the extra Saturday’s trading had been helpful to most retailers. “So 11.7 per cent with an extra day is not sensational,” he said. “You’ll probably find Christmas was not as bad as people originally anticipated. For most, it will probably be flat or slightly down,” the retailer added. Competition on the high street in December had been “very, very aggressive”.

Retailers on Tuesday continued to reap the benefits of heavily promoted discounts in the post-Christmas sales. After an encouraging Boxing day turnout of shoppers around the UK, Next and Marks and Spencer on Tuesday launched sales campaigns, ensuring even busier trading at city centres and retail parks.

In spite of Tuesday’s chilly conditions, 2,000 people had gathered at 3am outside Next’s Bluewater store in north Kent, two hours before the store opened.

The Metro Centre in Gateshead reported pre-5am queues. “It has been an exceptionally busy start to the sales,” it said, estimating numbers in excess of 120,000 on Tuesday compared to 100,000 on the same day last year. “The last week up to Christmas was also very good.”

Bluewater reported “one of our busiest days ever”, with more than 160,000 visitors. Early-morning crowds were also reported outside John Lewis and Marks and Spencer in central London.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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