Some Dorset retailers have defied the gloomy mood on the nation’s high streets, reporting an increase in trade over the crucial Christmas shopping period.

Early indications are that Dorchester’s figures were “slightly up” on the previous year, while Weymouth saw a mixed picture but signs of a rise in footfall.

Nationally, retailers were expecting a tough Christmas, with Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley warning that weak spending would “smash” some of them “to pieces”.

Phil Gordon, project director for Dorchester Business Improvement District (BID), said pre-Christmas trading seemed to have been encouraging. “The word in Dorchester is pretty good. It was slightly up on the last year from the people I’ve spoken to,” he said.

“I think perhaps part of the reason for that is we had a real success with car free car parking days that we got agreement to do from the two local councils that provide parking. That was the last three Saturdays in December and Christmas Eve and that gave a very immediate injection in the arm in Dorchester.

“I have some strong views on the high street generally and I think it’s been clear to me for a number of years that the high street is very much alive, in Dorchester anyway. I think it’s very important that the high street changes and adapts to make the best of what it has to offer. If it does that, it will survive long into the future.”

He said the season had shown the key role of “destination businesses” that inspired people to drive to them for a retail experience.

“If you give your customers a great experience, they will want to come back and thankfully there are still a number of things which you’re foolish to buy online rather than face to face. If you go and talk to people, you can make much better buying decisions rather than more whimsical purchases that you regret.”

Claudia Moore, chief operations officer at Weymouth BID, said: “I’ve had varying reports from before Christmas. I noticed myself that the town seemed very busy and I know some people, like the Body Shop, did very well but other places not so well.”

She said the town had been an attractive destination ahead of Christmas. “Lots of shops made a real effort with window displays. Even in Hope Square, where it’s generally fairly quiet, the Crow’s Nest with their windows brought a lot of people over to have a look, with lots of families.”

The season has already seen its first retail casualty, with HMV going into administration between Christmas and New Year. Fashion chain Next rallied with a 15.2 per cent rise in online sales, but a 9.2 per cent sales drop in its stores.

Analysts expect Marks and Spencer to announce a fall of up to three per cent in sales later this week, in both food and non-food lines. Debenhams, which had a tough 2018, is expected to avoid having to issue another in a series of profit warnings.