Shoppers left it late to splurge, but there were tentative signs yesterday that the Christmas period did not turn into the bloodbath many retailers had feared.

John Lewis, the department store chain, managed to take as much money over the Christmas period as it did last year, while London’s Liberty department store said it had a better December than expected.

'In the short term there may be some relief that worst fears about Christmas spending weren’t realised,' said Nick Bubb, analyst at Pali International, but he added that the long-term outlook for non-food retailers was 'grim'.

Sales at John Lewis for the five weeks to January 5, excluding the impact from new stores and the cut in VAT, were flat. Including the impact of new stores, sales rose 2.4%.

'It got better as the month went on,' said Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis. 'The real success was our [post-Christmas] clearance. We were confident we would do well on clearance given the national mood on bargain hunting.'

Retailers panicked in the run-up to Christmas, with dire sales figures in November and early December prompting many to cut prices by up to 70%.

Financial Times