Big events boost Debenhams

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Debenhams’ strategy of targeting shoppers over key events such as Easter and the Diamond Jubilee was rewarded with a sharp jump in sales today.

The department store chain, which is among the most aggressive discounters on the high street, said like-for-like sales excluding VAT rose 3.1 per cent in the 16 weeks to June 23, compared with 0.3 per cent in the previous half year.

It said its “enviable sales growth” came after it focused promotions on times of high footfall, such as Mother’s Day and end of month pay days.

Strong demand for health and beauty products helped alleviate the impact of the cold weather on its clothing sales, particularly in womenswear, but this meant a greater proportion of lower margin products.

The revenues figure was higher than City expectations but shares opened lower today after Debenhams said margins were below a year earlier.

Debenhams trades from 171 stores in the UK, Ireland and Denmark and has plans to open another 14 sites over the next five years. Nine modernisation projects were completed earlier this summer and work has commenced on another nine outlets, which will be completed by the end of September.

Chief executive Michael Sharp said the sales performance demonstrated the strength of the department store model, as well as the company’s ability to trade in difficult market conditions.

He added: “We have continued to make good progress and I am particularly pleased with the like-for-like sales trends in the second half of the (financial) year.”

Online sales were up 35 per cent, making it the 11th biggest UK online retailer in terms of traffic.

No 1 Jenny Packham has become the retailer’s leading occasionwear range following its launch in May when it joined the Designers at Debenhams portfolio that also includes Henry Holland and John Rocha.