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Digital Christmas for Argos, Dixons, Thorntons and Halfords

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It was a digital Christmas for the UK multichannel traders who reported their Christmas trading figures today.

Dixons Retail Group said multichannel, internet-led, sales grew by 23% during the period from November 1 to January 4, compared to the same time last year. Meanwhile, total sales at its brands, which include Currys and PC World, were up by 2%, with sales in the UK and Ireland up by 4%.

Sebastian James, group chief executive, said Christmas had been “lively”. He added, “In the UK and Ireland, the Black Friday weekend was remarkably busy but was followed by a somewhat quieter couple of weeks as we approached Christmas Day.

“From Boxing Day, the business took off like a rocket – in fact Boxing Day itself was the biggest in Dixons’ UK history with more than £100,000 flowing through our tills every minute.” But he remained cautious for the future, given what he described as a “fledgling” recovery in the UK.

While general merchandiser Argos reported total sales of £1.8bn in the 18 weeks to January 4, 3.6% up on the same period last year, online sales grew to 46% of Argos sales, up from 42% last time. Mobile commerce was up by 75%, and represented 20% of total Argos sales. Like-for-like sales rose by 3.8%, with strong sales of video gaming and other entertainment products. At sister company Homebase sales grew by 2.3% to £464m in the period, with like-for-like sales up by 4.7%. But both companies saw profit margins fall as the sales mix altered.

Terry Duddy, chief executive of the companies’ parent company Home Retail Group, said in today’s trading statement that the figures reinforced Argos’ plan “to become a digital retail leader”. Duddy’s departure from the role was announced today; he’ll be succeeded in March by Argos managing director John Walden.

Online sales accounted for 11.7% of total Halfords sales over the 15 weeks to January 10; during the period they grew by 13.8%. That contributed to total sales up by 6.6% in the period, with like for like sales up by 5.2%. Halfords chief executive Matt Davies said cycling had been the “standout performer”.

Finally, chocolatier Thorntons reported sales up by 6.3% to £93.1m in the 14 weeks to January 11. Online, or consumer direct, sales rose by 27% in the period, while retail sales fell by 2.9% to £46.1m. Like-for-like sales, stripping out the effect of 36 store closures over the period compared to last year, rose by 3.5%.

Thorntons chief executive Jonathan Hart said the performance represented “good progress”.

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