More sales gloom for a host of high street retailers

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THERE was more bad news on the high street yesterday as a raft of store groups including Argos, Halfords, Thorntons and Mothercare reported reduced sales, highlighting how cash-strapped shoppers have cut back spending on non-essentials.

The weak consumer electronics market was blamed for another sharp drop in sales at catalogue retailer Argos.

Parent company Home Retail Group, which also owns Homebase, said like-for-like sales at Argos fell by 8.8 per cent in 18 weeks to December 31, with the majority of the decline due to poor demand for video gaming and audio products.

It is the latest poor trading performance from the Argos business, which barely made a profit in the half year to August.

The chain is closing a number of stores in the coming weeks as leases expire.

The group said that trading at Homebase outlets was more resilient, with like-for-like sales down by 2.6 per cent amid subdued demand for ‘big ticket’ items.

Bicycles to car parts retailer Halfords Group reported a drop in sales in the run-up to Christmas, as the mild weather made cost-conscious motorists even less inclined to spend money on maintaining their own vehicles.

Halfords said UK and Irish like-for-like sales fell by 4.8 per cent during the 13 weeks to December 30.

Thorntons said it had suffered at the hands of tough competition in the run-up to Christmas as cost-conscious consumers hunted for the best deals.

The group, which has 574 wholly owned and franchise stores in the UK, said like-for-like sales fell by a worse-than-expected 4.2 per cent in the 14 weeks to January 7.

Thorntons has announced plans to close up to 180 stores over three years.

Under-pressure retailer Mothercare announced another drop in UK sales as it continues to flounder at home but flourish abroad.

The mothers-to-be, babies and children’s goods group, which runs around 350 stores in the UK, said that like-for-like sales in its domestic market were down by three per cent in the 13 weeks to January 7.

The figure is better than the seven per cent decrease reported in August and included a five per cent increase in December.

Analysts said the increase in the festive sales performance reflected comparisons with the cold snap the previous Christmas.

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