John Lewis expects ‘incredibly busy’ final Christmas push but it’s not all good news on the high street

John Lewis has said it expects the last few shopping days before Christmas to be “incredibly busy” but the picture across the rest of the high street is not all positive as retailers resort to steep discounts to attract shoppers while some face a fight for survival.

In the final full week’s trade before Christmas, John Lewis said its sales increased 7% year on year to £171.8m. Online performed particularly well, with sales at johnlewis.com up 30.3% and the retailer is looking to boost those sales as high as possible by extending its click-and-collect deadline to 8pm today (23 December) so people can still pick up orders on Christmas Eve.

Andy Street, John Lewis’ managing director, says: “Customers clearly want to keep shopping right through to Christmas Eve, and with the final few shopping days left we are expecting our shops to be incredibly busy as people are off work.

“With the extension of our Click & Collect service, John Lewis is making it easier than ever for customers to finish their Christmas shopping.”

However the pictures is not as rosy across the rest of the high street. Unseasonably warm weather has hit fashion sales, with even John Lewis seeing sales increases of just 1.9%.

Retailers from H&M to Sports Direct, Debenhams to M&S have all heavily discounted their stock, with some now offering up to 80% in a bid to entice shoppers in.

They have been hit by a combination of poor sales of cold weather clothing due to the warm temperatures and a poorer performance than expected on Black Friday – when most consumers eschewed the high street and fashion stores for online and electricals.

Retailers including Bonmarche and Argos have already warned about performance over the festive period, citing the weather and concerns about the impact of Black Friday respectively.

And today Game also issued a profit warning, citing “challenging conditions” in the gaming market and low footfall at its stores.

“The trading conditions in the UK video games market have been challenging,” says CEO Martyn Gibbs.

“The switch over from the older gaming formats to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One software has impacted profitability across the UK market. The extent of the impact of this switch over has only become apparent in December which has been compounded by lower year-on-year High Street and shopping centre footfall.”

In the 21 weeks to 19 December, Game said that total revenues fell 6.7% to £466.8m, with UK revenues down 11.4% from a year earlier to £353.5m.

And insolvency firm Begbies Traynor says the number of retailers under “significant financial distress” has risen to 24,737 this year, from 24,251 12 months ago.

January is typically when retailers file for bankruptcy, with high-profile examples from recent years including HMV, Woolworths and Jessops.

Julie Palmer, a partner at Begbie Traynor, told the Guardian: “This year there has been more discounting than ever before from retailers in the run-up to Christmas, as Black Friday deals extended into more severe festive promotions to try and boost lacklustre sales volumes.

“Unfortunately the swaths of cut-price deals seem to have had little effect, with levels of financial distress among retailers even higher than last year’s shocking statistics.”

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