Debenhams Posts Record December Sales

LONDON -- Debenhams (LSE: DEB  ) released its interim management statement this morning -- and the revelation that the retailer saw its best-ever December, with like-for-like sales over the five weeks to Jan. 5 2013 increasing 5%.

Over the 18-week period, group like-for-like sales were up 2.9%, while gross transactions rose 3.5%. Gross margin for the year is expected to be 10 basis points higher than last year, rather than 20 basis points, due to an increase in promotional activity in the run-up to Christmas, when the company tried to draw "customers looking for bargains ahead of Christmas as well as in the traditional sale period." This included Debenhams' first Christmas brand advertising campaign in six years.

In line with the rest of the high street, online sales proved one of the company's strongest performers: Online sales in the 18 weeks increased by 39% and accounted for 12.6% of total sales, versus 9.3% in the previous financial year. 

Chief executive Michael Sharp commented:

I am pleased with our performance in the first four months of our financial year. The trading environment was extremely challenging but we focused on meeting the needs of our customers and executing the four pillars of our strategy. I would like to thank the whole of the Debenhams team for their tremendous efforts in delivering this performance.

We continue to believe that while consumers have become acclimatised to the new economic reality, we don't anticipate a significant change in consumer confidence in the remainder of the year. We remain committed to prudent investment in key areas of the business to deliver long-term sustainable growth as well as driving shareholder value.

In other news for the company, this morning saw the announcement that Stephen Ingham is joining as a nonexecutive director from Michael Page. Debenhams chairman Nigel Northridge described the appointment as "a great addition to the board," citing Ingham's experience in building an international business.

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