DEBENHAMS has reported a near-6% fall in festive sales as retailers reveal Christmas brought them little cheer.

The chain, which has already announced 50 branch closures, reported a 5.7% drop in like-for-like sales during the 18 weeks to January 5.

It said customers left their shopping late and were targeting discounts.

And fewer people looked to the High Street operator at all, with footfall down.

Chief executive Sergio Bucher said there had been fewer customers and confirmed Debenhams is in “constructive” talks with lenders about its £520 million credit line.

He commented: “We have worked hard to deliver the best possible outcome in very uncertain times for retailers. We responded to a significant increase in promotional activity in the market, particularly in key seasonal categories, in order to remain competitive.”

At rival operator John Lewis, sales in the seven week Christmas period were up by 1.4%.

However, bosses warned that its 83,000 employees, known as “partners”, may not receive March bonuses for the first time in 55 years due to market “uncertainty”.

This includes workers at Waitrose supermarkets, where online sales rose by 12.8%.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, said: “Because of the steps we’ve taken we’ve got a strong financial position and we can afford to pay a bonus. The question is whether it’s prudent to do so and of course that’s a judgement about what’s coming and the uncertainty in the market and this year of course there’s quite a lot of that. So we just have to look at that sensibly.”

The results come after the British Retail Consortium said that the sector had suffered its worst Christmas in a decade.

Marks and Spencer saw its sales dip by 2.2% after several years of recovery efforts.

However, chief executive Steve Rowe described this performance as “steady”, stating: “The combination of reducing consumer confidence, mild weather, Black Friday, and widespread discounting by our competitors made November a very challenging trading period.

“However, overall our 13-week performance was steady with some early encouraging signs.”

Cars-and-bikes specialists Halfords issued a profits warning, attributing its 1.7% fall in sales to mild weather conditions, in addition to the weak consumer confidence affecting other retailers.

And, elsewhere in the market, discounter B&M saw its sales cut by 1.6% in the 13 weeks to the end of the year.

November, it said, had been “disappointing”.

However, Christmas was a cracker for grocery giant Tesco, which reported “strong” trading over the period as like-for-like sales climbed by 2.2% in the UK over the six weeks to January 5.

There was also comfort and joy for fashion brand Ted Baker, where retail sales increased by 12.2% in the five weeks to January 5, with growth in online trading.

That result comes despite an internal investigation into its founder Ray Kelvin, who began a leave of absence in December, over alleged harassment of staff, including “forced hugs”.

On the festive sales, acting chief executive Lindsay Page said: “The Ted Baker brand has delivered a good performance across both our stores and e-commerce business, despite the continuing challenging external trading conditions across our markets. This result again reflects the strength of the brand and the quality of our collections.”