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Laura Ashley grows ecommerce while rightsizing its store estate

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Laura Ashley today reported ecommerce growth of nearly 20%, and profits up by 6% as it invested online and moved to adjust the size of its store estate.

Ecommerce sales at the womenswear-to-homewares retailer grew by 19.6% during the year to contribute 16% of total UK retail sales, up from 14.1% last year. Laura Ashley says that ecommerce, franchising, licensing and wholesale sales now make up 26.7% of its total sales. That’s up from 23.8% at the same time last year.

Drivers behind fast ecommerce growth included a new mobile site, the introduction of click and collect and international sales. Laura Ashley now delivers its full range to France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland as well as the UK.

Evidence of a rightsizing of the store estate came in the news that during the year UK retail space was reduced by 4,000sq ft as Laura Ashley opened six new stores but closed five, taking overall store numbers from 211 to 212. The company said today, as it released its full-year results, that: “The store openings/closures are part of an ongoing store portfolio realignment programme, which is focussed on optimising profitability.”

The move to invest in ecommerce while adjusting the store estate appears to have helped to boost profits.

In the year to January 26, Laura Ashley showed sales up by 4.5% to £298.8m, from £285.9m last time. Pre-tax profits, before exceptional items, were up by 6.9% at £20.1m, from £18.8m last time. Like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect of store openings and closures, came in at 2%.

Fashion sales were down by 5.6%, while the fastest growth came in home accessories, up by 7.6%. Decorating and furniture both showed modest gains, at 0.7% and 0.5% respectively.

Chairman Tan Sri Dr KP Khoo said: “Continued like-for-like growth across retail, bolstered by strong performances from both our online and international businesses, have helped to deliver 9.2% growth in profit before tax. We are confident that, despite an extremely competitive retail sector and a challenging consumer environment, both our business and brand are able to continue the steady and robust progress of recent years.

“As we continue to expand both globally and online, we believe that our quality product ranges, based on 60 years of innovative design and a rich brand heritage, underpin the foundations of our future growth.”

In the first two months of the current financial year, like-for-like sales have grown by 2.7%, which Dr Khoo described as an “encouraging start”.

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