John Lewis has lifted hopes of a buoyant festive period for retailers after reporting a 13% hike in like-for-like sales.
In the first Christmas trading update from the sector, the department store chain reported sales of £684.8 million in the five weeks to December 29 thanks to a last-minute rush before the holidays and a milestone online performance.
Total sales rose 14.8% in the period, with extra trade coming from four new stores opened during 2012.
John Lewis notched up record sales of £158 million in the week leading up to Christmas, up 26.5% on a year earlier.
The group also suggested the clearance season got off to an encouraging start after total sales lifted 11.5% in the first five trading days after Christmas thanks to a record £31.7 million on December 27.
John Lewis said online sales in particular helped boost figures, with johnlewis.com breaking through the £800 million barrier during December after a 44% rise in sales year on year.
Internet sales now account for a quarter of all revenues, according to the group.
The figures mark the start of a busy reporting period for retailers, with fashion chain Next following on Thursday with its festive trading update. High street bellwether Marks & Spencer reports next week, with supermarkets Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco also revealing how well they fared.
The figures from John Lewis reinforce expectations that the sector enjoyed a late pick-up in sales, but experts are predicting a mixed performance.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said it was also likely that consumer spending has waned after a strong start to the clearance sales.