Retail Christmas
Morrisons slight sales increase was seen as a great victoryGetty

Christmas sales are vital for retailers. Before people in the UK take to the high street or sit down behind the computer to buy presents or prepare Christmas meals, retailers are already battling for their attention by showing iconic advertisements on TV.

After Christmas, the question remains which campaigns and Christmas planning had the desired effect. One thing is clear: in the retail game, online sales were the only real winner in 2015.

"This Christmas trading period seems to mark the death knell for the traditional retail model as we know it, as customers now increasingly choose to shop online for the best prices," retail expert Julie Palmer of Begbies Traynor said. "We all knew this day was coming, but the speed of the transition online has been much faster and more severe than most in the industry had expected."

But which companies managed to exploit those online opportunities, and what shops did consumers go to? IBTimes UK looks at the individual winners and losers over the Christmas period.

Loser: Next

Next's brand total sales edged up by only 0.4% in the quarter ahead of Christmas in a set of results the company called "disappointing". The retailer said that the warmer than expected autumn and early winter months were responsible for the lukewarm sales results.

The company's retail sales were down -0.5% while the Directory division, for which it had high hopes, edged up a disappointing 2%. It did mention that gross margins were maintained because the retailer did not offer stock before the End of Season Sale, which will help increase profits.

Share price movement since results announcement: -1.75%.

Winner: John Lewis

John Lewis told investors Christmas sales got a boost in 2015. The British retailer's revenue jumped 4.1% to £1.81bn in the six weeks to 2 January compared to the same period a year ago, it reported on 6 January.

The department store's sales were boosted by the success of its click and collect model, which also works with John Lewis products being picked up in Waitrose stores. Despite the success of the partnership with the grocer, which is owned by the John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose's own sales were down 1.4% on a like-for-like basis to £860m ($1.26bn, €1.17bn).

Winner: Morrisons

Morrisons reported a surprise increase in like-for-like sales over the festive period. In the nine weeks to 3 January, like-for-like sales excluding fuel edged up 0.2% from the same period last year.

However, despite the better-than-expected results, Morrisons said it is closing more stores. After announcing the closure of 11 superstores and the sale of 140 convenience stores in September, the grocer's CEO David Potts said an additional seven branches will be shut down.

The closures are part of a bigger restructure within the company. Potts aims to significantly cut overhead costs, as Morrisons' balance sheet remains a cause for concern, despite the positive results. The store closures follow a 47% drop in half-year profits reported in September.

Share price movement since results announcement: +9.5%

Loser: Marks & Spencer

Who is Bolland, the M&S chief to quit in April?

Marc Bolland
Marc Bolland joined Marks & Spencer in 2009Reuters

Marks & Spencer's general merchandise fell 5.8% on a like-for-like basis in the 13 weeks to 26 December. The retailer's GM part of the business has been management's Achilles heel for almost 10 years. Its food division has saved sales and profit outlooks over the last quarters, despite the deflationary market.

M&S announced along with the results that chief executive Marc Bolland had resigned, leaving the company in April 2015. His successor Steve Rowe is a veteran at the retailer and has worked in general merchandise for several years.

Winner: Debenhams

Debenhams posted better-than-expected results over the Christmas period, thanks to a sharp increase in online sales. The news sent the warehouse's share price soaring.

In the 19 weeks to 9 January, like-for-like sales at the FTSE 250 group rose 1.9% year-on-year, comfortably beating analysts' expectations for a 0.3% gain, while sales in the nine weeks to 9 January grew 1.8% from the corresponding period in 2014.

The better-than-expected results were largely due to a strong performance in the company's online department, which saw sales grow 12% year-on-year and 36% in the week leading up to Christmas.

Winner: Sainsbury's

Sainsbury's upgraded its sales outlook after the grocer found that Christmas sales fell less than expected. The supermarket reported a 0.4% drop in like-for-like sales excluding fuel in the three months to 9 January, against a 0.7% fall forecast by analysts.

Chief executive Mike Coupe said he expects Sainsbury's sales in the second half of the new financial year will be better than in the first half. The company is competing in a highly deflationary market, as food prices continue to fall.

According to figures released by Kantar Worldpanel, Sainsbury's was the only supermarket among the Big Four chains to increase its share of consumer spending, which grew 0.8% year-on-year during the Christmas period.

Winner: Tesco

Tesco surprised shareholders by reporting an increase in Christmas sales on 14 January. In the six weeks to 9 January, the grocer managed to hike its UK sales by 1.3%, compared to an expected drop of 2.3%.

Group sales were up 2.1% at Tesco. The company focused on customer service and shopping experience, as part of its chief Dave Lewis' turnaround plan. The positive results in the Christmas period could not save the entire quarter, however. In the three months to 9 January, like-for-like sales dropped 0.5%, with analysts expecting a 1.5% drop.

Loser: Argos

Catalogue retailer Argos suffered a sales slip of 2.2% in the Christmas period. Its owner Home Retail, which recently rejected a takeover bid by Sainsbury's, reported on 14 January that "volatile trading patterns" disrupted sales in the 18 weeks to 2 January.

Although sales fell in the renowned Argos stores, digital store concessions and collection points in Sainsbury's and Homebase stores offset the like-for-like drop. Overall Argos sales edged up by 0.9%.

Having previously set its profit guidance between £92m and £118m, Home Retail said that the trading period has caused pre-tax profit to be at the lower end of expectations.