Retailers take stock of Christmas

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Tight stock control helped Debenhams boost pre-tax profit in the 18 weeks to 3rd January despite a drop in like-for-like sales of 3.5 per cent. Gross transaction value was 0.6 per cent above the comparative period last year.

The group said: “Stocks have been tightly controlled during the period with total stock levels closing 7.3 per cent below last year, representing a stock density reduction of 13.4 per cent. Terminal stocks are forecast to be at near historical low for the half year.

“Debenhams trading results reflect our decision in early 2008 to reduce the number of SKU options and absolute stock levels within the business while investing in greater availability of bestsellers.”

Since the start of the year four new department stores have been opened, increasing trading space by some 2.3 per cent. The total number of stores within the UK and Ireland now stands at 153 compared to 146 at this time last year.

Debenhams Direct, the online business, continued to grow with year-to-date visitor numbers and sales up 39.2 per cent and 37.4 per cent respectively.

Chief executive Rob Templeman said: “Looking forward, the trading environment is likely to remain challenging for the whole retail sector. We will continue to focus on bringing fashionable and stylish products to the consumer as well as managing the business with an emphasis on the tight control of costs, stocks and capital.”

* Marks & Spencer went into its post Christmas sale with 15 per cent less stock than last year and this had cleared quickly, chairman Sir Stuart Rose said. However, the group saw like for like sales fall 7.1 per cent in the 13 weeks to 27 December. It is closing 27 stores – mainly small “Simply Food” sites. This along with other cost cutting measures will result in some 1,200 redundancies.

“UK retail gross margin for the full year is now expected to be around 175 basis points lower than last year as a result of increased promotional activity and our decision to invest in price for the benefit of our customers, especially in Food,” Sir Stuart said.

* Next said it had maintained its policy of trading at full price up until Christmas and as a result like for like sales for the period 29 July to 24 December were down seven per cent on last year. However, it said, stocks were well controlled going into the end of season sale. “We started our Sale with 8 per cent less stock than last year. After a good start to the Sale period we now expect clearance rates to be ahead of last year.”
Next Directory sales were up 1.1 per cent in the period.

* John Lewis reported flat like for like sales for the five weeks to 3 January, while total sales were up 2.4 per cent.

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