Retailers reap festive rewards as shoppers buy on the internet

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Bonmarche, the value fashion chain that focuses on the over 50s, reported strong growth in the run-up to Christmas following a return to more stylish, flattering designs.

The Wakefield-based company, which raised £40m from its float on AIM in November, said it had asked the 6.5 million women who have signed up to its loyalty card to say what they wanted from the brand.

The answer was more stylish, fit-for-purpose clothing that felt modern, but with a more flattering, age-appropriate fit.

The group said like-for-like sales rose 4.7 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 28 and by 6.0 per cent in the five weeks to December 28.

It saw a big increase in online sales, which rose by an impressive 61 per cent over the quarter and by 70 per cent in the five weeks to December 28.

This led to sales growth of 7.0 per cent over the quarter and growth of 8.4 per cent in the five weeks to December 28.

Bonmarche’s chief executive Beth Butterwick said she was encouraged by the recent trading performance.

“The improvements in our autumn/winter ranges are a result of us listening to, and acting upon, all customer feedback,” she said.

The group has been boosted by the success of its collection by David Emanuel, the royal fashion designer who recently won Ant and Dec’s TV show I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!

Bonmarche has also seen the benefits of a new range of accessories to compliment its clothing ranges and a new specialist bra fitting service.

Ms Butterwick said she was particularly pleased with the group’s multi-channel growth.

“This is a result of investments we have made in improving the online shopping and fulfilment experiences, allowing customers to ‘shop their way’.

“This progress is evidence that the mature customer is embracing a combination of shopping channels.”

Bonmarche’s online success was echoed at plus-size retailer N Brown, which said its online sales now account for more than half of overall revenues as tablet computers take the place of traditional catalogues. N Brown, the home shopping firm behind brands Simply Be and Jacamo, launched a click and collect service across 3,000 local convenience stores late last year to boost pre-Christmas trade.

A number of other retailers reported online success yesterday including car parts and bicycle group Halfords, Argos owner Home Retail, electricals specialist Dixons Retail and online-only grocer Ocado.

Halfords said it benefited from the recent relaunch of its website and online trade grew by 14 per cent over the third quarter, accounting for 12 per cent of all retail sales.

Chief executive Matt Davies said cycling was its “stand-out” success over the season.

Accessories and children’s bikes were in strong demand, while it also benefited from the launch of new ranges, including from former Olympic cyclists Victoria Pendleton and Chris Board- man.

Argos reported its strongest trading on a like-for-like basis in over 10 years as its move to become a digitally-led, instead of a catalogue-led, business starts to pay off.

Argos said it had seen strong demand for gaming consoles, tablets and TVs over the key Christmas trading period, with internet sales growing to 46 per cent of total sales, up from 42 per cent a year ago, helped by rising sales via tablets and smartphones.

The firm said the most popular items were the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles, Appstar 7 tablet, and Teksta robotic dogs.

Dixons Retail, home to the Currys and PC World chains, said web sales grew by 23 per cent, resulting in a three per cent increase in like-for-like sales in the two months to January 4.

Dixons said its growth had been driven by sales of tablets, kitchen gadgets and big screen TVs, with a particularly strong post-Christmas sale in the UK.

“We sold one laptop every four seconds on Boxing Day,” said chief executive Seb James.

He said the firm sold all the Apple iPad Air stock it could get hold of, while Kenwood food mixer sales were driven by the huge popularity of The Great British Bake Off television show.

Online-only grocer Ocado, whose shares have risen over five-fold in the last year on the back of a deal with Morrisons, posted gross sales growth of 21.3 per cent in the six weeks to January 5, reflecting strong trading in the seven days up to Christ- mas.