Simply Be and JD Williams owner N Brown Group reports falling first-half revenues and profits as consumer confidence hits ‘record low’

Jacamo's new mobile-first website will launch next year. Image: N Brown Group

Jacamo's new mobile-first website will launch next year. Image: N Brown Group

N Brown Group today reports falling first-half revenues and a 75% decline in profits as consumer confidence hit a “record low” and the online retail market becomes more challenging.

The retail group, whose strategic brands are JD Williams, Simply Be and Jacamo, says the ecommerce market for its categories has fallen by about 7% in the first half of its financial year. It has seen customers become more cautious as their disposable incomes fall. That’s seen through a lower levels of website sessions and softening conversion rates (-0.2 percentage points (pp) to 3.6%). Average item values reached £27.50, 14.1% higher than a year earlier, while average order values are 13.4% ahead at £78.70, but when shoppers do buy, returns rates are returning to normal.

Increases in the prices of energy and goods and in interest rates are “aversely impacting consumer confidence” and having an effect on non-essential spending decisions, says N Brown Group. “Whilst recent and future government intervention may help reduce the impact, the recently announced Government Growth Plan has, initially at least, increased forecast interest rates and impacted dollar exchange rates,” says N Brown Group in today’s half-year statement. “These could increase future pressure on household income.” While it has a rolling hedging strategy in place for both currency and interest rates, the level of hedging declines over the coming 24 months. Uncertainty is further worsened by the conflict in Ukraine. 

Multichannel and social strategy

N Brown Group says that despite the “challenging backdrop” it’s making progress on its strategy of growing the business through a simpler business focused on its three strategic brands. In the first half of the year the retailer launched a new mobile-first website for Simply Be, and it now plans to launch a new Jacamo site in the first half of next year. In-app native checkout is now live for 20% of its Android users and in beta for iOS users. 

The retail group now has 2.3m social media followers (+7%) on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. During the first half it launched its own sustainable brand, Anise, and says that it has seen a stronger than average return on its paid social media spend on this. It has also launched new third-party brands across its strategic websites, resulting in a 26% rise in third-party brand sales. Simply Be saw its largest new brand launch with Twisted Wunder in July, while Nobody’s Child sold more than 45,000 dresses in the first half of the year. 

First-half figures

The update comes as N Brown Group today reports revenue of £331.5m in the six months to August 27 2022. That’s 4.6% down on the same time last year. Revenue fell by 2.2% to £150.6m at its strategic brands and by 11.8% to £60.6m at its heritage brands – which are in managed decline and now include Home Essentials, launched in the pandemic as homewares sales grew online. The retail group says that the online market for the categories that it operates in fell by 7% on last year, partly as shoppers moved back into stores a year on from Covid-19 lockdowns.

Pre-tax profits of £7.2m fell by £21.9m – or 75% – on the £28.4m it reported last time. 

N Brown Group chief executive Steve Johnson says: “In a difficult period of weakening consumer confidence, we’ve balanced our objectives between disciplined trading – with a focus on upholding margin – and delivering on our long-term strategy to transform the business. 

“Our teams have worked relentlessly to launch Simply Be’s new website, and early indicators give us confidence in the wider benefits for all our customers when we roll this out more widely across our other strategic brands. 

“We anticipate continued softness in trading over the second half as macroeconomic pressures continue to weigh on consumers, despite government support. We will, therefore, maintain our focus on tightly managing both our costs and margins. At the same time, given our ongoing confidence in our strategy and the strength of our balance sheet, we will continue to invest in our digital transformation to deliver sustainable profitable growth.”

Sustainability

Simply Be launched its first clothing rental service with HireStreet, as part of its Sustain strategy. Rental, it says, helps to extend the lifespan of products and also encourages shoppers to embrace product circularity. N Brown Group says that its greenhouse gas emissions per item shipped are now 50% lower than its FY2015 baseline. The move to LED lighting at its Shaw distribution centre and a reduction in the use of gas and water has delivered further benefits. 

Some 31% of its clothing and home textiles now has some sustainability attributes – from 0% in 2019 – and it aims to reach 100% by 2030.

Simply Be is a Top100 retailer in RXUK Top500 research, while JD Wiliams and Jacamo are Top150.

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