John Lewis has blamed “unseasonably mild weather” and tough price cuts elsewhere on the high street for a dramatic slump in clothing and homewares sales.
The store chain’s sales fell more than 8% last week but the picture in its clothing and homewares departments was worse, with sales in both areas down more than 11%.
The poor clothing figures may be disappointing for the retailer, given the employee-owned chain’s recent investment in its womenswear ranges, including the recently launched 300 piece John Lewis & Partners collection.
But the brand, which is used as a barometer of spending by the middle classes, said its fashion departments faced tough comparisons from a year ago when its sales were boosted as a result of price-matching a rival retailer’s promotion. Due to JLP’s “never knowingly undersold” policy it has to slash prices in tandem with rivals.
“Total sales for the week were down 8.3% due to unseasonably mild weather and the fact we were price-matching a competitor this time last year,” said Dino Rocos, John Lewis & Partners operations director.
Fashion sales were down 11.1% but it was also a challenging week for its homewares departments, down 11.2.% as a sluggish housing market hits demand for new curtains and cushions. The picture was better in technology, with sales still down by 2.8%, but bolstered by recent gadget launches such as the iPhone XR.
It has been a tough year for high street retailers due to a cocktail of rising costs and weak consumer spending with much riding on the success of the key Christmas sales period, known as “the golden quarter” in the retail trade.
The John Lewis Partnership, which also owns Waitrose, has not been immune, with the group suffering a collapse in profitability in the first six months of the year. The department store chain slumped to a first-half loss of more than £19m, compared with a £54m profit a year earlier as it invested in IT systems and new stores and soaked up price cuts.
The most recent data from Springboard, which counts shopper numbers, showed high street footfall down 2% in October – the 11th consecutive month of decline. Its experts suggested that shoppers were now waiting for Black Friday and other seasonal promotions before hitting the high street.
“Consumer demand is continuing to weaken which, as we head into the key trading period of the year, suggests that Christmas could be challenging,” said Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s marketing and insights director.
John Lewis will launch its much vaunted Christmas ad later this week and its managing director Paula Nickolds will hope it can work the magic of the last year’s Moz the monster campaign which spurred it on to record festive sales.