One of the most successful U.S. exports of Christmas 2013 may have been Black Friday, the day on which consumers are tempted into starting Christmas shopping early with flash sales and discounts.
Early indications from the U.K. suggest that those retailers which invested heavily in Black Friday (the Friday after Thanksgiving) online, particularly middle England favorite John Lewis, did best over the festive period. Clothing-focused department store Debenhams (London Stock Exchange: DEB-GB) is the biggest loser so far, booking a 26 percent fall in profits to Â£85 million profit for the 17 weeks to December 28.
And retailers can't just blame a weak economy for their woes, Rahul Sharma, managing director at Neev Capital, told CNBC.
(Read more: Black Friday: Newest American export )
"Consumers are in a pretty solid mood, and generally spending on durables like cars and electronics is quite good," he pointed out.
The appetite for online discounting and vouchers is being driven by younger consumers with smartphones, Sharma said.
"The way consumers are going is more discounts and intra-season sales events like Black Friday," he added.
Outside Black Friday those stores which developed a good "click and collect" service for customers, such as House of Fraser,which announced its "best ever" Christmas trading, seem to have done best - as this meant that people coming to pick up items in-store were then more likely to buy goods on top of their orders. A good smartphone or tablet app was also key, with around three-quarters of traffic to the John Lewis website on Christmas Day coming from these devices.
(Read more: Black Friday winners and losers )
House of Fraser's performance may boost appetite for a potential sale or stock market flotation in 2014.
For Debenhams, further share price falls may be on their way. The department store chain is heavily dependent on Christmas spending, and its poor performance has already claimed the scalp of Simon Herrick, its chief financial officer. Herrick was the focus of some unwanted publicity for the chain ahead of Christmas when he wrote to suppliers saying they would be paid 2.5 percent less for orders up to December 17.
It will be next Christmas before investors can "have any confidence" in Debenhams' strategy, according to analysts at Jeffries, who have a hold rating on the stock.
The retailer is also suffering from the lack of new fashion trends to motivate consumers to spend more, according to Sharma.
Retail giants Tesco and Marks & Spencer, both of which are expected to have less than sterling Christmas performances, will announce how they performed over the festive period next week.
- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle. Twitter: @cboylecnbc.
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