Over 50’s clothing chain Bonmarche flagged up uncertain trading conditions and a poor online performance after sales in the run up to Christmas fell 3 per cent.
The Wakefield-based chain said like-for-like store sales were down 3.4 per cent in the five weeks to Christmas Eve, while online revenue fell by 14.3 per cent.
Like-for-like store sales edged up 0.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 24 after the firm said it took a less promotional stance in its third quarter.
Helen Connolly, chief executive of Bonmarche, said: “Given the backdrop of the current trading environment, our third quarter store sales were satisfactory, particularly in light of the business still being in the early stages of its turnaround.
“The online performance was poor, and this continues to be a key area of focus.”
She said that customers have responded well to the improved, more modern ranges in Bonmarche’s core autumn/winter product categories of coats and knitwear.
The group was helped by more seasonally appropriate weather during the festive quarter after suffering unseasonal weather during the autumn, which hit clothing sales.
“This strengthened demand and to some degree counterbalanced the weakness we are experiencing in the apparel market,” said Ms Connolly.
The product gross margin for the quarter was 2.2 per cent higher, due to a lower level of promotional activity than in the previous year.
“In particular, and for the first time in several years, the winter sale began in earnest on Boxing Day, rather than before Christmas,” said Ms Connolly.
“There remains a degree of uncertainty as to trading conditions as we enter our final quarter. Nevertheless, at the end of the third quarter, the board’s view of the likely outcome for the full year remains in line with previous expectations.”
Sales for the 39 weeks to December 24 fell by 1.3 per cent and store like-for-like sales were down 5.3 per cent.
The retailer said its financial position remains sound and the board expects group pre-exceptional, pre-tax profit is likely to fall within a range of between £5.0m and £7.0m.
Analyst Kate Calvert at Investec said: “Unchanged full year pre-tax profit guidance is likely to be taken well, with third quarter like-for-like sales back in positive territory, albeit against weak comparatives and helped by more seasonal weather.
“While like-for-like sales growth was slightly lower than our second half forecast, this was offset by better margin as Bonmarche adopted a less promotional stance in the third quarter.
“(This is) early days in the turnaround of the business, with Helen Connolly having only been in the job for five months. She has already articulated an evolutionary strategy with the 50 plus women at its heart, focusing on improving execution from coordinating ranges to better buying, as well as using Bonus Club data more effectively.”
Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb said: “The update today from the struggling Bonmarche fashion chain for the 13 weeks to December 24 is a bit late in the day, but they would have said something by now if things were off course and investors will be relieved to see that there is no profit warning.
“The good news is that the gross margin was 220 basis points up, thanks to much reduced discounting, and store like-for-like sales were marginally up, by 0.8 per cent, helped by the colder weather and more modern ranges, albeit online sales were, disappointingly, nearly 4 per cent down.”
At December 24, Bonmarche traded from 327 stores, up from 310 stores in 2015, and online.