Freezing weather melts sales at John Lewis

The snow and freezing weather that swept across the UK last week caused a 14% slump in sales at John Lewis, compared with the same week last year.

The retailer’s weekly sales data is the first indication of the toll taken by the bitterly cold spell on the high street. Fashion and clothing were particularly hard hit, with sales plummeting nearly 19%.

However, sales of hats, gloves and scarves rose 38% on the same week in 2017; sales of boots were up 36%.

The trading statement for the fifth week of 2018 (to Saturday 3 March) for the John Lewis Partnership, which includes Waitrose and the John Lewis department stores, shows total sales fell by 5.1% to £198.02m, from £208.66m last year. Waitrose accounts for more than 60% of group revenues.

John Lewis said its partners “made an incredible effort to support trading after snowy weather across the UK … disrupted some of our operations”.

Electricals and home technology sales were down 6.3%, though heating devices soared 265% compared with the same week last year. Sales of tumble-dryers also rose.

The gloomy fashion sales figures will be a further worry for struggling competitors New Look and Debenhams, which are attempting to revive their fortunes.

John Lewis’s home furnishings and kitchenware also slumped, with sales down 17.2%.

Results at Waitrose were slightly better and sales edged up by 0.7% compared with the same week last year. However, food sales have also been bolstered by inflation.

The cold weather influenced what food shoppers put in their trolleys, with canned soup sales surging by 50% and crumpets by 35%. Hot drinks were also popular: roast and ground coffee sales rose by 16%.

Consumer experts said the big freeze had been bad news for retailers, many of which were already struggling.

Damien Webb, a consumer business restructuring specialist at RSM, said: “The current inclement weather will add further misery on those that struggled during the festive period.”