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N Brown Group makes headway in transformation from catalogue to digital-first retailer.

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Figleaves and SimplyBe owner N Brown Group today said it was making good progress in its transformation from catalogue to digital-first retailer.

The home shopping group said 69% of all new customers now transacted with it online. Mobile traffic accounts for 64% of online traffic. The move towards putting online first, said chief executive Angela Spindler, “has been driven by a clear understanding of what customers want, and fuelled by technology.”

The digital-first strategy led to the closure of 18 clearance stores in August, after a store review concluded this was an “inefficient and outdated” approach to stock disposal. Some £3m a year saved through the closures is set to be reinvested into areas including digital clearance.

As well as trading online the company has pioneered taking its online brands offline, through the launch of Simply Be and Jacamo stores. Today it said that like-for-like sales at the stores were up by 6% on the same time last year, while like-for-like profits were up by 12%. However, at the bottom line, the stores reported an operating loss of £0.9m, up from £0.6m last year. This, said N Brown, was “a good performance when the headwind of seven new stores year-on-year is considered.”

Chief executive Angela Spindler said: “Our transformation into a truly digital-first, specialist-fit, fashion retailer is on track and is delivering tangible results, including good trading momentum online.”

The update came as the company reported group revenue of £415.8m in the half-year to August 29, 4.2% up on the same time last year, and pre-tax profits of £19.4m, down by 54.6% compared to the same time last year following the redundancy costs associated with the closure of its outlet stores.

The JD Williams brand has been going through a turnaround and today, N Brown Group said improvements were starting to take effect. New customer online penetration, for example, is up by 21 percentage points at 74%, compared to the same time last year, while new customers numbers are 21% up on last time.

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