The Christmas retail winners and losers | Business

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Winners

Next

Next emerged as a winner from a tough Christmas trading period as its slick online operation helped it exploit strong demand for winter coats and knitwear stoked by a cold November.

The retailer reported full-price sales growth of 5.2% for the last two months of 2019, which was well ahead of its forecasts with a 3.9% slide in store sales outweighed by a 15.3% jump in online sales.

The better-than-expected outcome meant Next nudged up its profit guidance for the year by £2m to £727m.

Like-for-like sales have become the benchmark in the City for judging the current performance of retailers. Typically represented as percentage growth rates, like-for-like sales measure sales at stores that have been open for at least a year, stripping out the impact of sales at newer stores. The idea is that they allow a more transparent comparison of a retailer’s sales performance over a certain period of time, when compared with the same period of time a year earlier.

However, there is no formal industry standard. This means that some companies include new extensions to stores in their like-for-like sales, while others include sales generated by a customer paying with a voucher. Critics of the measure say that like-for-like sales do not always give an accurate picture of a retailer’s health. They argue that of greater relevance is profitability and how well a company is adapting to challenges such as the living wage and online shopping revolution.

Greggs

Greggs’ 25,000 employees will be handed a special £7m bonus – up to £300 each – in their pay packets this month after the bakery chain’s vegan sausage roll led to bumper sales and profits.

The company upgraded its profit outlook for the third time since early November, with sales at established stores up 8.7% in the three months to 28 December. Sales rose 9.2% in 2019, more than tripling from the previous year.

Tesco

The UK’s biggest supermarket chain revealed a surprise rise in Christmas sales – up 0.1% at established stores in the six weeks to 4 January. It pointed to improvements in quality and lower prices, and said its expanded range of plant-based food had proved popular.

However, sales dropped 0.4% in the three months to 23 November – which compares with a 0.7% fall at Sainsbury’s and 1.7% decline at Morrisons for similar periods.

Aldi

German discounter Aldi booked more than £1bn in sales for the first time in the four weeks to Christmas Eve as sales of alcohol, meat and premium ranges did well.

Sales rose 7.9% in the period, well ahead of Aldi’s larger rivals, helping the UK’s fifth largest grocery chain to an 8% share of the market.

However, 2019’s pace of growth proved slower than the 10% Aldi achieved in 2018. Profits at the group are also taking a hammering as the company spent heavily on expansion and trimmed prices to undercut its traditional rivals.

Majestic Wine

Majestic Wine reported bumper Christmas sales as Britons celebrated with English wine, crémant and spiced rum.

The specialist chain said like-for-like sales (at stores open at least a year) rose 4.3% in the final three months of 2019 as lapsed customers returned to its stores after it overhauled its product range (Majestic was sold to the private equity firm Fortress for £95m in December).

Rum cocktails were a big trend, with demand for the spirit up nearly a quarter while brandy sales increased by a third. French fizz also made a comeback with sales of champagne and crémant up 11% and 32%, respectively, the retailer said.

Dunelm

The home furnishings chain shrugged off a tough market and enjoyed like-for-like sales growth of 5% to £313m in the 13 weeks to 28 December. The retailer upgraded its profit outlook last month after sales were boosted by improvements to its website, which made it faster and easier to use on mobile phones, as well as its product range. It also offers a click and collect service in 170 stores. Profit margins have improved because it has struck better deals with suppliers.

Analysts said its wide range and affordable prices had helped Dunelm lure customers from struggling rivals such as John Lewis.

Naked Wines

Underlying sales were up 11% in the 10 weeks to 31 December and margins improved because more customers returned to buy from the website. The online wine retailer is spending less than expected on attracting new customers (towards the bottom end of its £20m-£25m range), which will flow through to higher profit for the year. Investec, the house broker, estimates a £2.5m boost to profits.

The company’s chief executive, Rowan Gormley, has stood down and replaced by Nick Devlin as of Thursday, following the sale of the Majestic business with its high street stores.

Losers

John Lewis

John Lewis will decide in February whether to ditch its annual bonus for the first time in 67 years, which would be a big blow to its 81,000 employees. It revealed a big fall in profits for the second consecutive year led by difficulties at its department stores. Its department store boss, Paula Nickolds, who has been at the partnership for 25 years, is stepping down by mutual agreement following the results.

Sales for the group fell 1.8% over the key Christmas period and John Lewis, which also owns Waitrose, led by a 2% slide at the department stores. Sales at established Waitrose stores rose 0.4%.

Marks & Spencer

Shares in M&S fell more than 10% after it reported a 1.7% drop in like-for-like clothing and home sales. An attempt by the high street stalwart to update its menswear ranges backfired and it was hit by discounting by rivals. Customers complained last year that its clothes were “too old” but M&S boss Steve Rowe admitted it had “got the balance wrong” and the firm was left with too many skinny jeans over the Christmas period.

M&S food halls fared better, with sales up 1.4%, boosted by new ranges and lower prices. Overall, the retailer eked out 0.2% growth in the three months to 28 December.

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Sainsbury’s/Argos

Poor sales of toys and video games at its Argos chain offset better trading at Sainsbury’s, where grocery sales were up 0.4% and clothing sales rose 4.4%, boosted by a chilly November. Overall, sales at established stores slid by 0.7%, with general merchandise down nearly 4% in the 15 weeks to 4 January.

Argos lost market share in toys after it scrapped its traditional festive three-for-two promotion. Sainsbury’s, on the other hand, held market share after cutting prices on its budget items and improving its premium Taste the Difference range, and also enjoyed a 5% rise in online sales – a fifth of its take.

Morrisons

A decision to dial down Black Friday promotions backfired for Morrisons, which booked a 1.7% slide in sales in the 22 weeks to 5 January. The Bradford-based supermarket said it had faced an “unusually challenging period for sales” as rivals discounted heavily to win over shoppers holding back amid concerns about Brexit and the wider economy.

Morrisons said it still expected to meet profit expectations after cutting costs.

Card Factory

Shares in the card and gift retailer fell as much as 23%, after it warned full-year profits would be lower than expected and ditched its special dividend. It is now forecasting adjusted profits of £81m to £83m, down from £89.4m last year.

The firm posted a 0.6% fall in like-for-like sales for the 11 months to 31 December, and blamed the general election and weak consumer sentiment for declining footfall on the high street. It said it managed to counter this partially by improving its card ranges and the quality of products. Online sales rose 14.8%, down from 59.1% a year earlier. The retailer is hoping for a boost from selling a range of everyday cards in 440 Aldi stores.


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