FatFace among clutch of retailers confirming ‘challenging’ conditions

Clothing chain FatFace joined a raft of retailers in revealing sales pressure after a tough Christmas on the high street.

The group said sales tumbled 6% across its 217 UK stores in the five weeks to January 5, although a better performance online and internationally saw overall sales remain broadly flat.

It said early Christmas trading was “tough” after a difficult November, with customers leaving shopping later this year, echoing recent comments by rivals Morrisons, Next and Sainsbury’s.

FatFace was boosted by a 16% jump in online sales, with record visits and sales in Christmas week, while it cheered a 32% surge in overseas sales.

The group also posted half-year figures to December 1, showing flat like-for-like full price sales and a 4% rise in underlying earnings to £15.5 million.

Outgoing chief executive Anthony Thompson, who will be replaced by Liz Evans on March 1, said: “Christmas shopping patterns appear to be changing driven by Black Friday and growing consumer confidence in online delivery speed and availability.

“This resulted in an even later surge in December sales across our stores.”

Retailer Topps Tiles likewise bemoaned a “challenging” market as it reported a 1.4% fall in like-for-like revenues for its first quarter to December 29.

Matthew Williams, chief executive, said: “Against a challenging market backdrop and a strong period of performance in the prior year we believe the business has performed robustly over the first quarter.”

The Fragrance Shop confirmed the switch online as it said a 19.3% rise in website trade helped overall like-for-like sales rise 3.6% over the six weeks to December 29.

It said trading was helped by initiatives including its new pop-up “sniff bars”, allowing customers to sample and buy fragrances.

These were launched in Leeds and Birmingham and more locations will be rolled out in 2019, according to the group.