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Give a little more love at Christmas ... and iPads, scooters, hair tongs and hearmuffs

Many "partners" have already been working for three hours when an announcement is made: "Good morning.

Vicky Allan gets into the Christmas spirit at John Lewis in Edinburgh
Vicky Allan gets into the Christmas spirit at John Lewis in Edinburgh

The time is now 8.59 and John Lewis will open in one minute".

Although it's the Wednesday before Christmas, thoughts are shifting to clearance. The team have already cleared dining tables, once fully dressed for a Christmas sitting: furniture is already in the sale. They are gunning up for the big swap-over on December 24, when, at 5pm, everything begins to switch to clearance.

They have "just ordered windows" for Mother's Day and Easter. There are rumours that somewhere in the building are Valentine's Day sweets.

I am spending a day working in the Edinburgh branch of high street leader John Lewis. We had hoped to do the same at Amazon's distribution centre in Dunfermline to compare the two experiences but Amazon was not keen to help.

I'm not exactly working a proper shift as a "partner" at John Lewis, as I have a "work experience" badge on just in case someone asks me where to find something and I don't know. Occasionally I stand behind a till and pack bags. Sometimes I move stock around. The most real work I do is in the collection centre, where there is no need for me to do more than read a number from a piece of paper, check an ID, and find a matching number on a parcel on a shelf.

There are 689 "click and collect" online shopping items arriving today, and I distribute a fair few of them, from hearmuffs (earmuffs that are headphones) to hair tongs to perfume.

In the past few weeks the John Lewis chain has been taking record sales, its turnover up more than 11% on last year and online sales hitting new highs. It contrasts with frequent tales of gloom on the high street, of low footfall, a 3% downturn in spending, sales slumping at HMV, and the relentless rise of online shopping.

This may be, in part, because of the sector John Lewis delivers to: a "mid-to-premium" end of the market. But mostly, I think it's because John Lewis, to its credit, has something about it that makes it closer to the heart of Christmas. Because of its service standards, and because its "partners" look to be thriving and enjoying the company they part-own, it appears to be about people, rather than rampant consumerism.

Poet John Betjeman once said that when the end of the world came, he wanted to be in the haberdashery department of Peter Jones, the Sloane Square flagship store of the John Lewis empire, "because nothing unpleasant could ever happen there". It retains that feeling.

In adverts, John Lewis has rebranded Christmas. This year's television commercial, with a snowman battling the elements to get to his snow love, has as its tag line "Give a little more love at Christmas". John Lewis describes it as about going "that extra mile".

The advert, like last year's featuring a boy impatient to give his parents their presents on the big day, connects with what Barry Blamire, managing director of John Lewis Edinburgh, describes as "considered giving". Of course these adverts offer a fantasy.

Though I watch out, I never see that little boy, or girl, out to buy their mum and dad a present. However, I do see one couple buy their child a scooter, a mini iPad, and other big boxed items. I also hear reports of people coming and buying iPads for all their children. I learn of people buying £300 headphones as gifts. I see the kerrching of spending.

I'm also not really sure that I see John Lewis customers going that extra mile,unless you compare them with those shoppers who do their buying frenzies online. The people here who literally do go the extra mile are the partners, who never seem to stand still. Kerry Thomson, for instance, pelts around her Home Too department like Road Runner in pursuit of Wylie Coyote.

Many seem to be carried along by adrenalin, addicted to Christmas and its buzz. Department manager Charles Watt, a jovial Father Christmas figure without the beard, has worked in the store for nearly 25 years. He is soon due six months' leave as a reward, but he tells me he will not take it over Christmas. "For me this is the most exciting time. I like the feeling of being hectic and having the shop full of people. Christmas Eve is a brilliant day to work – the kids are just magical in toys."

Of course, Amazon doesn't need to rebrand Christmas giving as being about love, or play up the company's "people" credentials. It has no need to make us feel differently about buying, or encourage us to believe in Christmas in some different, more nostalgic way, since the world is buying ever-increasing volumes through Amazon anyway.

What is remarkable is that enough people still want and believe in John Lewis, that there still is a market for this old-style shopping experience. It's proof the high street is far from dead.

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