British department stores group House of Fraser has said a surge in online sales helped it to its best ever Christmas trading period.

The group, which operates stores in Dublin and Belfast and has annual sales of around £1.2 billion, said like-for-like sales excluding VAT for the three weeks to 28 December rose 7.3%, with online sales up 57.7%.

Like-for-like sales excluding VAT for the first nine weeks of its fourth quarter were up 4.3%, the firm said, adding it expected to finish the year with lower net debt, which stood at £157.2 million pounds for the year to 26 January 2013.

According to industry sources last month, French department store group Galeries Lafayette is in talks to buy House of Fraser.

The firm, which made a loss before tax and exceptional items of £6.9 million pounds in its last fiscal year, has spent almost a decade under private ownership, but had been considering a return to the stock market after previous attempts at a possible trade sale failed.