* Dixons Q3 underlying sales up 3 pct yr-on-yr
* Home Retail's Argos Q3 underlying sales up 2.7 pct
* AB Foods' Primark Q3 sales up 25 pct
* ASOS UK December sales up 34 pct
* Booker Q3 underlying sales up 3.1 pct
By James Davey
LONDON, Jan 17 Trading updates from six major
British retailers on Thursday demonstrated that must-have
gadgets, cheap fashion and internet sales were key to overcoming
an otherwise tough Christmas.
Consumer spending generates about two-thirds of Britain's
gross domestic product, but job insecurity and a squeeze on
incomes has put shoppers under pressure, pushing music retailer
HMV, camera store Jessops and DVD rental firm
Blockbuster into administration over the last week.
The British online market, however, grew 14 percent in 2012,
according to online retail industry body IMRG, which forecast it
would grow 12 percent to 87 billion pounds in 2013.
Retailers are having to adapt and Thursday revealed a few
bright spots, with Dixons Retail, Europe's second
largest electricals retailer, selling five tablet PCs a second
in the week before Christmas and beating analysts' forecasts
with a 3 percent rise in group sales at stores open over a year.
"This Christmas everybody wanted a tablet," Chief Executive
Sebastian James told reporters.
In the 12 weeks to Jan. 5, Dixons' fiscal third quarter, the
firm sold "well over 1 million" tablets, he said, with Apple
iPad, Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus the most popular lines.
Though group gross margin was down 0.5 percent and sales are
still falling in Italy and Greece, Dixons said it would meet
year profit forecasts and its shares rose 1.5
Argos owner Home Retail, which in October unveiled
a plan to reposition its catalogue-led business to an
internet-led one, raised its year profit forecast, pushing its
shares up 16 percent.
Argos, which also saw strong demand for tablets, posted
better-than-expected third quarter like-for-like sales growth of
"We had a fantastic performance as far as tablets are
concerned," said CEO Terry Duddy, also noting that internet
sales now represent 42 percent of Argos' total sales.
Shares in Home Retail were among the most shorted on the
stock market prior to Thursday's update, according to data
published by Britain's Financial Services Authority, so some
fund managers will be staring at hefty losses.
FASHION ON A BUDGET
While Marks & Spencer, Britain's biggest clothing
retailer, posted a weak Christmas trading update last week,
cheap online fashion retailer ASOS reported another
strong trading performance over the festive period on Thursday.
The company, which targets young women seeking
celebrity-style fashion on a budget and has even clothed U.S.
First Lady Michelle Obama, said UK sales climbed 34 percent
year-on-year in December, while international sales jumped 47
"I would like to think these growth rates can continue,"
said CEO Nick Robertson, noting 93 percent of the global
internet population reside outside of the UK.
A higher-than-expected 25 percent increase in sales at
discount fashion retailer Primark, whose website boasts a men's
hooded top for 10 pounds ($15.99), also underpinned a 10 percent
rise in group sales at owner Associated British Foods,
sending its shares up 7.3 percent.
"Nobody's got growth rates like these," said Finance
Director John Bason.
Britons seeking a cut-price Christmas also drove a 3.1
percent rise in third-quarter underlying sales at Booker
, Britain's biggest cash-and-carry wholesaler.
But Mothercare, the baby and maternity products
retailer, remained a laggard. Despite a change in management
last April its UK like-for-like sales slumped 5.9 percent in the
third quarter and its shares fell 1 percent.
Official data for British retail sales in December will be
published on Friday.