Belfast Telegraph

Christmas period varies from 'dire' to 'dazzling' for retailers

By Jamie Grierson

Christmas has emerged as a divisive season for the retail sector, with some players turning in a better-than-expected performance - while others moved closer to the edge.

A "dazzling" week before Christmas helped like-for-like sales rise 2.2% in the crucial month, their strongest since January, according to a key survey by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and KPMG.

High street bellwether Marks -amp; Spencer reported robust sales with its food department compensating for weaker growth in clothing and home, while Debenhams also reported a surge in a trade surge in the final week before Christmas.

But at the other end of the spectrum, outdoor clothing group Blacks Leisure and lingerie chain La Senza were bought out of administration after weeks of dire trade and video games retailer Game warned it will breach a banking agreement after sales plunged.

There had been fears that the retail sector was heading for one of its worst Christmas trading periods to date, but upbeat statements from the likes of department store John Lewis have offered some balance to the bleaker outlook at chains such as HMV.

The BRC survey said sales of clothing and footwear had "a pretty spectacular month" following dire trading in the autumn's mild weather, while food sales enjoyed their strongest growth for a year on the back of special offers.

But big-ticket items, including furniture and TVs, continued to suffer in December.

The upbeat figures will not ease fears over the struggling sector's future and Helen Dickinson, head of retail at KPMG, said: "Sadly, no-one expects this level of demand to be indicative of the year ahead."