Early indications are that John Lewis, the UK retail chain, has come through the Christmas trading period in reasonably good shape, but analysts are less optimistic about the prospects for some of its high street rivals.

Figures released yesterday show John Lewis sales up 4.2% in the week to December 22 and up 4.5% the following week. According to the Financial Times, the company reported “very strong” sales on Christmas Eve and added that it had made a “confident” start to its clearance sales.

Comparison of weekly data can be distorted by when the public holidays of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fall but, Nicholas Carroll, senior retail analyst at research group Mintel, told the BBC: “At a time when retailing is meant to be on its knees, the John Lewis figures that we can see look fairly good and they imply an increase in sales of about 4% over the two-week period”.

The Christmas period has already seen some high-profile casualties: music and film retailer HMV entered administration, blaming “the ongoing wave of digital disruption sweeping across the entertainment industry” and “extremely weak” festive trading.

Nor is it only brick-and-mortar businesses that are suffering; Mahabis, the upmarket slipper brand operating a direct-to-consumer model and reliant on online marketing, also went into administration, although the reasons were unspecified.

Insolvency firm Begbies Traynor warned in December that more than 30,000 retailers, including 8,500 online businesses, were in “significant” financial distress during the vital Christmas trading period.

“It is not all doom and gloom, and there are learnings from successful retail stories,” said Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor. “If retailers want to thrive, they will have to bring greater value to their brands,” she told Retail Gazette.

“They need to get better at anticipating, and responding to, next generation demands and expectations.”

That is something that the bigger chains have often struggled to manage, however, and observers are not sanguine about the trading figures that will be announced next week by the likes of Marks & Spencer and Debenhams.

Meanwhile, fashion chain Next reports its Christmas figures today. Described as an industry bellwether, one analyst warned last week that in-store sales could be down 13% on last year; but in September, Next said that online sales were on track to overtake those in-store for the first time.

Sourced from Financial Times, Guardian, BBC, Retail Gazette; additional content by WARC staff