THE boss of John Lewis has quit after the company revealed a drop in sales in the crucial festive trading period.

Staff at the department store and at Waitrose may miss out on their traditional bonus, with a decision on the dividend due to be made next month.

John Lewis, which has a John Lewis at Home branch in Branksome, spent £3million transforming its Southampton store into an “experimental concept shop” ahead of Christmas. The shop at Westquay is trying out innovations that could be rolled out to other branches.

But across its stores, like-for-like sales were down two per cent in the crucial Christmas trading period.

Paula Nickolds, who has been with the employee-owned retailer since 1994, leaves her post as managing director of John Lewis just three months after the managing director of Waitrose, Rob Collins, also stepped down following a major restructuring.

John Lewis Partnership chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield is also quitting – having announced his departure in November 2018 – and will be replaced next month by outgoing Ofcom chief Sharon White.

Ms Nickolds was due to become the new executive director of brand – overseeing both John Lewis and Waitrose – in a newly created role which she was due to take up in February.

Sir Charlie said: "After some reflection on the responsibilities of her proposed new role, we have decided together that the implementation of the future partnership structure in February is the right time for her to move on and she will leave the partnership with our gratitude and best wishes for the future.

"At the full year, we expect profits in Waitrose & Partners to be broadly in line with last year.

“In John Lewis & Partners we will reverse the losses incurred in the first half of the year, but profits will be substantially down on last year. We therefore expect that partnership profit before exceptionals will be significantly lower than last year."

He added: "The partnership board will meet in February to decide whether it is prudent to pay a partnership bonus.

"The decision will be influenced by our level of profitability, planned investment and maintaining the strength of our balance sheet."

In March last year, the company revealed that staff bonuses for the employee-owned retailer would be just three per cent of annual pay – the lowest level since 1953 – after profits fell 45.4 per cent to £160million.

Gross sales at the partnership in the seven weeks to January 4 were down 1.8 per cent compared with last year at £2.2billion. Waitrose saw a 1.3 per cent fall in sales, due to store closures, but was up 0.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

But at John Lewis there was a 2.3 per cent fall in sales – or two per cent on a like-for-like basis – with electricals and home furnishing sales down by four per cent and 3.4 per cent respectively compared with a year ago.

Sir Charlie added: "We saw significant variation in levels of demand, with Black Friday sales up 10 per cent on the equivalent period last year, followed by more subdued demand in the subsequent weeks."

He warned that "profits will be substantially down on last year".

There was some growth, with beauty sales up 4.7 per cent and fashion up 0.1 per cent, while at Waitrose online orders and basket sizes increased 23 per cent in the seven days leading up to Christmas compared with last year.

However, John Lewis could only manage a 1.4 per cent increase in online sales, meaning the group overall saw an online uptick of 16.7 per cent in total.

Reacting to the news, Richard Lim, chief executive of Retail Economics, said: "Excitable Edgar did little to fire up Christmas sales, with declines across non-food and a woeful performance in the online business, which barely showed any signs of growth.”