Sales at John Lewis’s Solihull store fell by 20.6 per cent last week as the upmarket retailer provided fresh evidence of the impact of the economic slowdown across the UK.
The group said sales fell by 8.3 per cent during the week to June 28 compared to the same week last year, led by hefty declines for home and electrical goods.
In a signal that rising fuel costs were also having an impact on trade, John Lewis said its out-of-town stores – such as Bluewater in Kent and Brent Cross in North London – fared the worst in terms of sales.
Bluewater’s sales dropped nearly 25 per cent during the week, with Brent Cross posting a 17 per cent decline.
“There is no doubt that trade in our shops proved challenging when compared to exceptional results last year,” commercial director Phil Hullah said.
Retail analyst Freddie George at Seymour Pierce said they were a “very weak” set of figures. He also cited sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Euro 2008 football championships as having an impact. On the out-of-town decline, Mr George added: “There must be more going on here than the higher cost of petrol putting off shoppers going to these destination outlets – perhaps they are progressively being viewed as not attractive places to visit during the summer.”
Electrical and home technology sales were down 15.8 per cent during the week, with home items 13 per cent worse off. Fashion helped stem the decline with a two per cent rise, John Lewis said.
Sales of bigger ticket items such as washing machines and sofas have been among the main casualties during a consumer spending squeeze.
Just two of the chain’s branches posted sales rises – the flagship branch on London’s Oxford Street, which enjoyed an overall 5.6 per cent rise, and Knight & Lee in Southsea, Portsmouth, which was 0.7 per cent better off.
The group has previously said the capital’s performance has been boosted by tourism revenues.
New stores in Liverpool and Cambridge were also trading well, John Lewis said, with graduation season driving outstanding sales of hats and accessories at the latter.
The group’s Scottish stores managed to clung on to single-digit percentage sales falls during the week.
But others, including Solihull, registered bigger declines. Sheffield was down 12.6 per cent, and High Wycombe was 17.7 per cent down.
Waitrose supermarket sales were three per cent up during the week compared to last year, down from 5.2 per cent the week before. Overall John Lewis Partnership sales were down 1.2 per cent during the week to June 28.
Howard Archer, chief UK economist at Global Insight, said John Lewis’s sales were seen as a good indicator of the health of consumer spending.
“Consequently, the evidence of markedly faltering sales, following on from this week’s very disappointing figures from Marks & Spencer, clearly points to consumers reining in their spending.
“It reinforces our belief that the prospects for consumer spending over the coming months are pretty bleak. Disposable income growth is muted, while purchasing power is being squeezed significantly by rising utility bills and elevated food prices, and also by higher mortgage repayments for many householders.
“Falling house prices, serious concerns over the economy, tighter credit conditions, increased debt levels and rising unemployment are also likely to weigh down on consumer spending.”