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WEEK IN PEAK Bonmarché, WH Smith, Hotel Chocolat and Studio on their multichannel Christmas trading performances

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In our final Week in Peak update, we’re reporting as Bonmarché, WH Smith, Hotel Chocolat and Studio report their Christmas trading updates

Bonmarché focuses on multichannel as store sales fall but online grows

Bonmarché today said it would continue to focus on its multichannel strategy after a Christmas trading period in which store sales fell and online grew, although not enough to compensate for the loss of store sales.

The value women’s fashion retailer said that, following a profit warning earlier in December, store visitor numbers had improved slightly towards the end of December, and like-for-like sales improved “marginally” at the same time. Store sales fell by 11.1% in the 13 weeks to December 29 compared to the same time last year, and on a like-for-like (LFL) basis that strips out the effect of store openings and closures. But while in-store sales were down, online sales were up, rising by 22.2% over the period. Nonetheless, that wasn’t enough to compensate for the fall in the larger part of its business. Total sales fell by 8.1% over the period, or by 7.8% LFL. 

The longer-term trend showed less of a decline in stores but still faster online sales. In the 39 weeks to the same December 29 date, store LFLs were down by 6.5% while online was up by 26.5%, taking total sales down by 2.7%, or 3.3% LFL. 

The retailer, ranked Top150 in IRUK Top500 research, said that the winter sale had started well and the retailer continued to operate within its revised expectations.

Chief executive Helen Connolly said: “Clearly, in the short time since our last update, macro market conditions have not changed, but I am pleased that the sale stock is clearing well and that trading is in line with our revised expectations. In the short term, we continue to focus on ending the year with a clean stock position and ensuring that our balance sheet remains healthy.

“Looking forward, the board remains confident in Bonmarché’s prospects and strategy and we will continue to drive the implementation of our previously outlined plans, maintaining a particularly strong emphasis on increasing multichannel sales.”

Studio enjoys a record performance

Findel said its Studio website had enjoyed a record Christmas quarter.

Sales at the value website, previously known as Express Gifts, grew by 13.7% over the quarter, following a “record-breaking” Black Friday period, while in the year-to-date sales grew by 9%. 


Personalised products such as toys and nightwear were particularly popular over Christmas, while more sales took place online, with ecommerce sales up by 25% by value, and accounting for 78% of total orders. The mobile site, said Findel, was especially popular with new customers who used it to browse and create wishlists.

Sales from selling products on Studio were up by 13.6% in the 15 weeks to the end of December, while revenues from financial services and its flexible credit offer grew by 14.2% at the same time. 

But sales in its education business fell following the closure of its education retail business. Overall, group sales reached 10.9% in the third quarter, the 15 weeks to the end of December, and 6.5% in the year to date.

Group chief executive Phil Maudsley said: “I am delighted with the strong performance of Studio in its peak trading period. This is testament to the increased strength and consumer recognition of our online value retail offer. We delivered record-breaking sales and strong margin performance in the weeks leading up to Black Friday and consequently we now anticipate full year PBT to be towards the upper end of current market expectations.”

Hotel Chocolat says Christmas growth buoyed all its sales channels

Hotel Chocolat reported sales up by 15% in the second quarter of its financial year, to December 30, thanks to a strong Christmas in which growth was came from digital, wholesale and store sales.

The retailer now has 117 stores in the UK following the opening of 15 new stores in the first half of the year, including in New York and Tokyo. Its Christmas trading

Angus Thirlwell, co-founder and chief executive, said: “This was another strong Christmas for Hotel Chocolat. Our new store openings contributed 5% of the growth in the period, with the balance coming from existing stores, digital and wholesale channels. Our wholesale partnerships were notable successes with strong growth, balancing lower margins with lighter capital investment.

“The Velvetiser in-home hot chocolate system quickly garnered rave reviews from press and customers and we sold over three times our initial forecast. Our new Chocolat Cream Liqueur, as featured in our documentary film last week, was also a hit. We invested in the growth of our new VIP Me loyalty scheme, acquiring over 400,000 members during the period, of which over 85% were in-store buyers, not previously on our database.”

WH Smith reports sales lift, though its high street sales were down

Stationer-to-bookseller WH Smith has reported a 6% lift in total sales in the 20 weeks to January 6, although like-for-like sales, which strip out the effect of store openings and closures, were flat over the same period. 

The retailer has bought InMotion, a pureplay US travel retailer selling digital accessories, which it believes will give it access to the US market, while it can also expand the InMotion format into new markets. As a result it now has about 420 stores, including 116 InMotion stores, across 28 countries and in more than 90 airports beyond the UK. 

Sales at its high street business were down over the period, both for like-for-like (-2%) and total sales (-1%).

Group chief executive Stephen Clarke, said: “Looking ahead, whilst there is existing uncertainty in the broader economic environment, the group is well positioned for the year ahead and beyond.”

Image courtesy of Hotel Chocolat

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