Online demand and cut-price fashion fuel sales

Argos were among several retailers to report strong performances as they took advantage of online shopping boom over the festive period. Picture: PA
Argos were among several retailers to report strong performances as they took advantage of online shopping boom over the festive period. Picture: PA
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Retailers who were able to tap into the boom in online shopping, together with demand for must-have gadgets and cut-price fashions, enjoyed solid Christmas trading amid an otherwise lacklustre festive period for the high street.

Currys and PC World-owner Dixons Retail, Argos-owner Home Retail Group and online-only grocer Ocado all reported strong sales growth today. They were joined on the festive winners’ board by Primark, the fast-growing discount clothing chain, and N Brown, the home-shopping group which targets older and larger shoppers.

Recent industry data has highlighted a disappointing Christmas on high streets both north and south of the Border with below-average footfall and takings.

However, standout performers, such as Next and John Lewis, have made a virtue of both their websites and their physical stores. Those that failed to excel online, including Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, have struggled.

Argos reported its strongest trading on a like-for-like basis in more than a decade today after making further progress in its plan to become a digital-led retailer with nearly half of sales made online. It said it had seen strong demand for gaming consoles, tablets and TVs over the key festive trading period.

Home Retail chief executive Terry Duddy, who is set to be replaced at the helm by Argos managing director John Walden, said: “Customers are looking for strong availability and immediacy.”

Dixons Retail, which also owns the Elkjop chains in the Nordic nations and Kotsovolos in Greece, said its business took off “like a rocket” after a record Boxing Day for the electricals retailer. More than £100,000 of sales went through its tills every minute on the day as Dixons Retail Group’s UK and Ireland arm made up for a quieter couple of weeks in the run-up to Christmas Day.

Chief executive Seb James said the firm sold all the Apple iPad Air stock it could get hold of, while Kenwood food mixers flew off the shelves driven by the huge popularity of The Great British Bake Off television show.

In clothing, Primark revealed “excellent” Christmas trading as the chain maintained its squeeze on struggling rival M&S.

The group, which has 161 of its 257 stores in the UK, is on course for further profits growth this year, on top of the 44 per cent leap in profits to £514 million recently announced for the year to September.

Its parent company, Associated British Foods, said that like-for-like growth already achieved and further store expansion meant Primark’s profit “will be well ahead of last year”.

While the chain uniquely achieved its growth without a transactional website, home-shopping group N Brown said its customers were increasingly comfortable with buying clothes using a tablet, which they found more intuitive than a computer.

Budget fashion chain Bonmarche, meanwhile, posted a jump in its online sales with growth accelerating over the last five weeks.

Elsewhere, Halfords also highlighted an “excellent” Christmas, with strong sales of children’s bicycles helping to keep its recovery firmly on track. In November, the car parts and bicycle group announced a return to profit growth.

Chocolate seller Thorntons, which has been closing underperforming stores, served up a steady rise in sales over Christmas.