latest music news
Gadgets ease Argos sales pressure
The launch of Apple's iPad 3 tablet computer provided some welcome respite for embattled catalogue chain Argos as it reported better-than-expected sales.
Argos parent Home Retail Group said better sales of consumer electronics, driven by the highly-anticipated release of the new iPad in March, helped ease like-for-like sales declines in the division to 0.2% in the three months to June 2.
But the wash-out weather proved a dampener for the group's DIY chain Homebase, with comparable sales slumping by 8.3% in the quarter.
Seasonal products, which account for around 40% of sales in the 341-strong business, plunged by around 15% after the wet start to the summer.
Shares in Home Retail jumped 17% on news of a better performance at Argos.
Analysts had expected Argos first quarter sales to fall by around 4%, following an 8.7% decline in the previous six months as it struggled amid a tough consumer electronics market and dire high street trading conditions.
Home Retail said it continued to plan cautiously for the year ahead despite the improvement, given that the quarter was highly volatile due to the record wet weather and timing of holidays.
While the rainy Jubilee bank holiday weekend failed to give the group a noticeable sales lift, Home Retail chief executive Terry Duddy said there were already signs of some consumer cheer ahead of the Olympics.
"One of the things that may be coming through here is a bit of a feelgood factor as far as consumers are concerned - people are getting out there and continuing to enjoy themselves," he said.
Gazebos sold well over the wet Jubilee as Britons looked for cover from the rain, while Union Jack items such as deckchairs were also in demand.
The dismal weather in April caused 80% of the first quarter sales declines at Homebase, according to Home Retail bosses, but they claimed the chain outperformed competitors in a dire market.
Kingfisher-owned rival DIY chain B&Q recently unveiled a 12% slide in sales due to poor demand for outdoor products and building materials.
Mr Duddy said they were "victims" of the weather, with Homebase heavily weighted towards garden products.
The group shut two Argos stores in the first quarter, leaving it with 746.
Home Retail plans to close 10 stores this year, but continues to resist calls for widespread closures, claiming that they support its presence online and that only seven were loss-making.