KEY RETAILERS have had a rough end to the year, with consumers‘ Christmas spending lower than expected.

Supermarket J Sainsbury released a third quarter trading statement that showed like-for-like sales down 1.2% when the effects of the booming forecourt business were stripped out.

But total sales in the 12 weeks to Jan 1 were up 2.7% excluding petrol, leading chief executive Justin King to label the results “encouraging”.

“This sales performance was in line with our plans and was a good first step in delivering our sales led recovery.

“We were particularly pleased with the levels of availability and customer service achieved over the Christmas period.”

Mr King is fighting to reclaim market share for Sainsbury‘s with a plan to boost sales, but is labouring under close scrutiny from private equity firms.

There was better news for William Morrisons, which recently bought Safeway for £3bn, where like for like sales were up a fraction at core stores.

The conversion of 56 of its Safeway-branded stores reportedly boosted sales per square foot by up to 58%, although this will be flattered by Christmas trading.

The world‘s second largest supermarket chain, Carrefour, also reported a tough trading year on sales of €81bn (£57bn).

The group saw like for like sales fall by 1% over the year in its home French market, with just 0.8% growth across all its markets.