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Christmas trading updates from Dixons, Asos, Mothercare and Argos

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Dixons, ASOS, Mothercare and Argos-owner Home Retail Group all unveiled their Christmas figures today.

Mothercare said, in a third-quarter trading update, that its UK online sales grew by 12% in December following a move to a new ecommerce platform. In the 13 weeks to January 12, said the nursery retailer, online sales grew by 0.9%. However UK sales were down by 12.9% over the same period as a result of an ongoing move to ‘rightsize’ its store estate. It now has 269 stores, down from 311 at the beginning of the year. Total group sales fell by 7.4% in the quarter.

Simon Calver, chief executive of Mothercare, said the company had made “solid progress” in the quarter, with double-digit growth from international sales. “The transition to our new online platform has passed the test of peak trading with Direct in Home growing at double-digit rates during December. Our work towards delivering improved value, choice and service for our customers continues to make an impact.”

Pureplay Asos reported retail sales of £78.1m in December, 41% up on the same time the year before. UK sales were up by 34% at £35.6m, and international sales up by 27% to £42.4m. Group revenues, which also include income from third parties and deliveries, rose by 40% to £79.8m. By December 31, it had 5.6m active customers, and during the month two million orders were dispatched.

Chief executive Nick Robertson said: “Our UK performance was particularly strong at +34%, which continues to be driven by better conversion of traffic alongside continued investment in both our proposition and pricing. Our international business grew by a healthy +47%.

“We remain positive in our outlook for 2012/13 as we continue our journey to becoming the number one online fashion destination for twenty-somethings, globally.”

Online sales represented 42% of Argos’ total £1.7bn sales in the 18 weeks to January 5, while mobile commerce sales, made via mobile optimized websites and apps for smartphones and tablets, rose by 125% on the previous year. Like-for-like sales across the group were up by 2.7%.

Terry Duddy, chief executive of Argos’ parent company, the Home Retail Group, said he expected full-year profits to come in £10m ahead of the market consensus of £73m. “While we anticipate consumer confidence will remain subdued in the coming year, we are focused on delivering the transformation plan to reinvent Argos as a digital retail leader.”

Like-for-like sales at Argos’ sister company Homebase fell by 3.9%, with total sales coming in at £453m over the period.

Dixons Retail announced 2% growth in sales in the 12 weeks to January 5, with like-for-like sales up by 3%. Its UK business grew by 8%, like-for-like, while its like-for-like multichannel sales were up by 7%, and Northern Europe sales by 11%. But like-for-like sales fell by 8% in Southern Europe and by 25% in Pixmania, currently being restructured.

The company said group underlying pre-tax profits were expected to come in at between £75m and £85m.

“Our key multichannel businesses delivered an encouragingly strong result during the Christmas period, particularly in the UK and Ireland and in Northern Europe,” said chief executive Sebastian James. “Customers continue to respond to our excellent range of products, compelling offers, seamless approach to multi-channel and improving service levels, and we continue to benefit from capacity exiting these markets.”

He said the company had traded ahead of local markets in Italy and Greece, and that it was making good progress on PIXmania restructuring plans.

“In the year ahead,” he concluded, “while we will manage our cost base cautiously, we see many opportunities to improve the overall performance of our group through further developments in our service offer for customers, sharing best practice, controlling costs and focusing on multichannel growth.”

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