Sales at department store John Lewis in the week to March 14 dropped 4.1 per cent to £45.1m.

John Lewis managing director Andy Street said that the performance was “better than we had expected”. “Almost all shops beat their own targets”, he said.

Street said that comparisons will be hard to read in the run up to Easter, which fell three weeks earlier last year.

The performance in John Lewis’ home department was its best week in the half to date. Forward orders were “more resilient”, said Street. The performance from electricals and home technology was “subdued”.

Fashion benefitted from the early spring weather, with childrenswear, haberdashery, toys and babywear singled out for their performance. John Lewis will launch a fashion campaign this weekend, featuring supermodel Karen Elson. (See exclusive sneak preview in this week’s Retail Week).

Street said: “Now is the time for us to be fighting for every sale and surpass our expectations in this hugely competitive year,” he said.

Sales at grocery division Waitrose in the week fell 0.1 per cent to£78.9m. The warm weather towards the end of the week drove sales in ranges including salads and lettuces, cider, appetisers, cold pies and continental meats.

The retailer said that many branches reported customers asking in store about its new Essential Waitrose value range.

Total group sales at the John Lewis Partnership dropped 1.6 per cent to£125.98m in the week.