John Lewis had a “solid but challenging” start to its Sale.

Total sales were down 4.8% to £101.3m year-on-year in its week to December 31 which the retailer said was down to strong comparatives as shoppers rushed to buy big ticket items before the VAT rise last January.

All department stores were down year-on-year with its flagship store on Oxford Street, London one of the worst hit, with sales down 15.3% year-on-year.

John Lewis’ online sales were also down 1.3% over the week despite recording its best ever day on December 27 with sales of £5.5m. The online sales dip last week comes on the back of a 154% jump the week ending December 24.

The sales drop comes after an “outstanding performance” in the final weeks before Christmas, according to the department store’s head of strategy Kate Pearson. Total sales for the week ending Christmas Eve were 32.7% up at £124.7m which Pearson said was  thanks an extra trading day due to the timing of Christmas.

During its Sale week fashion was its strongest performer with sales up 4% on last year. Kidswear and menswear traded particularly well according to the retailer.

Home, which had a “storming” run-up to Christmas, according to Pearson, dropped 3.7% and electronics and home technology sales plummeted 13.4% over the week, with a notable reduction in big-ticket purchases.

Pearson said: “As we enter 2012, the trading environment looks challenging, with consumer confidence and disposable incomes remaining pressurised. Our focus for the next few weeks will be on bringing in new season stock while driving a good run through clearance to deliver a strong performance in our final trading period of the year.”