John Lewis' retail director Gareth Thomas is to take early retirement. Thomas has been with the UK-based retailer for 30 years, and a member of the John Lewis management board for the last decade.

The company said his decision to take a break from full-time working means that he will be able to spend more time with his family and to pursue his outside interests including his work with the charity Save The Children.

John Lewis managing director, Andy Street, said: "We are all hugely saddened by Gareth's decision but wish him every success and happiness in the future.

"We will miss his leadership and insight enormously and value the strong legacy he leaves behind him."

Earlier this week, the UK retailer reported a 15.8% rise in total sales at its department stores division for the five weeks to 2 January, driven by demand for its fashion and homeware lines.

Like-for-like sales were up 12.7% over the key five-week Christmas period. Fashion sales, which include beauty, were up 22%, the retailer said.