Business World

Tuesday 11 December 2018

Mothercare online sales recover as refinancing talks continue

Online sales proved a bright spot amid the prevailing high street gloom for Mothercare
Online sales proved a bright spot amid the prevailing high street gloom for Mothercare

Ben Woods

Mothercare has cheered a much-needed recovery in online sales as the struggling retailer remains locked in talks with lenders over a refinancing deal.

Online sales proved a bright spot amid the prevailing high street gloom, swinging to growth of 2.1pc in the 12 weeks to March 24 as website sales climbed 7.2pc.

However, there was little reprieve for bricks and mortar stores. UK like-for-like sales slipped 2.8pc over the period as customer footfall tumbled.

The update comes amid period of turbulence for Mothercare, which replaced boss Mark Newton-Jones last week and continues to pursue a stay of execution from lenders over its financial position.

It is also reportedly weighing a company voluntary arrangement, a move which would allow it to close loss-making shops and secure deep discounts on rental costs.

New chief executive David Wood said his "immediate priority" was to ensure Mothercare returned to firmer financial ground.

He said: "The UK retail trading environment remained relatively muted in the quarter, with a continuing trend of lower footfall in stores, though there was an encouraging return to growth online, with website sales in particular growing at 7.2pc."

International sales were down 3.7pc for the period, as growth in the Middle East failed to offset declining footfall in Russia.

Total group sales fell by 0.3pc, but shares in the retailer were up more than 2pc in morning trading on the London Stock Exchange.

While the firm made "good progress" in driving down its store estate and overall costs, it said greater focus was needed on customer experience to help restore its reputation as a prime destination for parents.

Mothercare recently appointed KPMG as an adviser, with the accountancy giant drafted in to help it secure covenant waivers as it looks at additional sources of financing from its lenders HSBC and Barclays.

Mr Wood added: "We remain in constructive dialogue with our financing partners with respect to our financing needs for Financial Year 2019 and beyond, and we continue to explore additional sources of financing to support and maintain the momentum of our transformation programme.

"All of these discussions are ongoing and further updates will be given as appropriate."

Retailers across the board have been battered by weak consumer confidence off the back of soaring Brexit-fuelled inflation.

They have also had to contend with surging wage costs and eye-watering business rate hikes.

Since January, Toys R Us and Maplin have filed for administration, while fashion retailers such as New Look and Select have embarked on radical store closure programmes.

Press Association

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