Retail news round-up on December 23, 2013: N Brown hires property agent to seek 20 new stores, Aldi aims to open 650 US stores in five years, John Lewis weekly sales jump 4.2% and M&S apologises after Muslim staff member refuses to serve customer alcohol

N Brown appoints Briant Champion to find stores for Simply Be and Jacamo

Online and catalogue fashion retailer N Brown plans to open 20 new stores after appointing property agent Briant Champion Long, The Telegraph reported. Briant Champion Long is seeking sites for Simply Be and Jacamo building on the nine-stores the brands already operate through. N Brown has also hired former Asda property boss, Guy Price, as its new property acquisitions manager. The new stores are a welcome boost for struggling high streets as N Brown puts its faith in physical stores. The home shopping group is growing its online sales but it wants to create ‘multi–channel hubs’ to build brand awareness and provide customers a collection point for orders. N Brown says the outlets will be dual-branded with Simply Be and Jacamo.

Aldi wants to open 650 outlets in US over next five years

German supermarket group Aldi is planning to investf $3bn (£1.8bn) to grpw its operations in the US, BBC News reported. Aldi is targeting 650 new stores in the country over the next five years, which will take its US estate to almost 2,000 shops. The plans including building adistribution centre and US headquarters in California.

Aldi launched in the US with its first store in 1976.

UK’s John Lewis weekly sales up 4.2% due to last-minute Christmas shopping

UK’s largest department store group John Lewis recorded 4.2% year-on-year sales growth to £164.4m in the week to December 22, on the back of last-minute Christmas shopping. The group’s Christmas trading led to a 9.7% increase in sales during the last week against a week earlier. Sales in the retailer’s fashion department surged 3.3% year-on-year, driven by children’s clothing and toys. The group also saw a boost in lingerie sets. The company said the most popular item this Christmas was the Apple iPad, with one selling at its stores every 10 seconds during the past week. This has contributed to a 5.6% jump in sales for retailer’s technology department from the corresponding period in 2012.

Marks & Spencer slammed by customers after Muslim staff member refuses to serve alcohol

Marks & Spencer has been criticised by peers and customers after a Muslim member of staff refused to serve a shopper who wanted to buy alcohol. The department store retailer said it had a policy of assigning staff “suitable roles” who could not handle certain items due to their religious beliefs. M&S’s religious policy emerged after an unnamed customer told the Telegraph they had tried to buy a bottle of champagne in an M&S store, but the member of staff “was very apologetic but said she could not serve me” and asked the customer to use another till. But Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis questioned whether members of staff should have the right to refuse to serve customers and customers slammed M&S on its Facebook page, while a Facebook page calling for people to boycott the retailer gained hundreds of ‘likes’ within hours of being created.

Blockbuster’s double administration to cost taxpayer £7m

Blockbuster could cost taxpayers almost £7m after it called in administrators twice in one year. The most recent statement of the administrator’sproposals for Blockbuster’s parent company, TS Operations Limited, states that HMRC is likely to lose £2.1m in VAT, PAYE and National Insurance contributions after the DVD rental firm collapsed into administration for the second time in November, according to the Telgraph. This is on top of the £4.8m bill when Blockbuster collapsed in January. Blockbuster was bought out of administration in January by Gordon Brothers Europe but it disappeared from the high street this month after all its fell into administration again and all 91 stores were closed.