Argos, Dixons and Halfords emerge as Christmas retail winners

Department store The winners from the busy Christmas retail season are emerging

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A raft of trading updates from UK retailers has revealed more Christmas winners on the UK High Street.

Argos-owner Home Retail Group and Dixons Retail, which runs Currys and PC World, have both reported rising sales.

Meanwhile online grocery retailer Ocado has benefitted from the growth in internet shopping.

That is despite supermarket rivals including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons struggling to register sales growth this Christmas.

Halfords, Thorntons and Primark-owner Associated British Foods have also reported good Christmas trading figures, joining department stores such as John Lewis and House of Fraser and fashion stores including Next and online retailer Asos among the Christmas winners.

Home Retail Group

The company behind Argos and Homebase reported strong growth in like-for-like sales, with sales up 3.8% at Argos, which accounts for about 70% of the group's revenues.

Argos Sales at Argos have been boosted by online growth

Nearly 50% of sales at Argos are now online, with its "Check & Reserve" service proving popular.

It said it sold a lot of tablet computers, televisions and video games over Christmas.

"The bottom line is that Argos has an operation suited to the multichannel age," said retail analysts Conlumino.

"If it can also improve the desirability of its products, it can continue to strengthen its performance."

Dixons Retail

The retailer that owns Currys and PC World said like-for-like sales rose 5% in the three months to January, with internet sales up 23%.

Business "took off like a rocket" on its best ever Boxing Day, said group chief executive Sebastian James.

The company has benefitted from the demise of its main electrical goods rival Comet, which closed in the run up to Christmas a year ago.

Ocado

The online grocery delivery firm perhaps best exemplified the gap between the High Street and the online market.

Ocado bags Ocado has grown while supermarkets have struggled this Christmas

While most supermarkets struggled to grow sales this Christmas, Ocado saw a 21% growth in gross sales in the six weeks to early January.

It said it saw particularly strong sales in the week leading up to Christmas, and is running supermarket Morrisons' newly-launched online delivery operations this year.

But like other retailers, Ocado is still cautious about the health of the UK economy.

"While we are encouraged by this current trading, the retail environment remains both challenging and competitive, with consumer sentiment subdued," said Tim Steiner, Ocado's chief executive.

Associated British Foods

The owners of Primark said sales at its discount fashion chain were strong over Christmas after being dampened by unseasonably warm weather in the autumn.

Sales were up 12% in the four months to January, with Christmas trading described as "excellent".

It is predicting that profits in 2014 will be well ahead of 2013.

"Primark remains the jewel in the crown for Associated British Foods," said retail analysts Conlumino.

"With strong trading over the quarter and unprecedented like-for-like growth, the budget-level fashion retailer emerges as a clear Christmas winner."

Halfords

Victoria Pendleton Bike ranges from the likes of Victoria Pendleton helped boost Halfords sales

Halfords was another retailer that said it had an "excellent" Christmas. Bike sales once again proved to be the biggest success, with sales jumping 20%.

Children's bikes and accessories proved popular, and there were new ranges of bikes from cyclists Chris Boardman and Victoria Pendleton to promote.

That offset slower growth in Halfords' other business - car maintenance - which suffered due to the milder weather in the early part of winter, which meant people's cars broke down less often.

Thorntons

The chocolate retailer recorded a 3.5% increase in like-for-like sales in the three months to January. Total retail sales fell 2.9%, however, as it shut 36 of its shops as part of a new strategy.

Online sales rose 27% from last year when the retailer experienced IT issues.

"Customer response to our new seasonal lines, in particular our Advent calendars and our Snowman licensed range, exceeded our expectations," said chief executive Jonathan Hart.

But he remained cautious: "As expected, economic conditions remain challenging for many of our customers and the market overall was very competitive," he said.

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