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Hi-tech gifts lift Shop Direct

Littlewoods and Very.co.uk parent Shop Direct Group hailed 2012 as the year of the tablet computer after selling one every 40 seconds in the run up to Christmas.

Soaring demand for children's versions from technology-savvy families helped it sell more than 91,000 tablets over Christmas, with the LeapPad 2 and InnoTab 2 the third best-selling Christmas toys - beating the Furby in the charts.

The online and home shopping retailer, which also owns Woolworths.co.uk and isme, said group-wide sales rose 5% excluding VAT in the six weeks to December 29 after a last-minute shopping rush that saw it deliver 90,000 parcels on Christmas Eve.

But this marked a slowdown on the 9% surge in sales the previous Christmas, and Shop Direct warned poor consumer confidence was expected to wipe out sales growth over the year ahead.

Alex Baldock, group chief executive of Shop Direct, said: "We expect sales to slow as we head towards Easter and to remain broadly flat for the year. With consumer confidence remaining subdued, retailers will have to fight even harder to win market share."

Shop Direct said the Christmas sales hike helped revenues rise 3% overall in the final six months of 2012.

The group said 28% of all online sales were made via mobile devices, including tablet computers, over Christmas. It also reported a 32% hike in sales of its own-brand fashion lines, led by celebrity ranges designed by Myleene Klass, Fearne Cotton and Holly Willoughby.

Shop Direct said 140,000 dresses were sold over Christmas, with 24,000 of those from the celebrity ranges.

Shop Direct has five million active customers and delivers more than 25 million parcels a year.

It is owned by the Barclay brothers, who own the Daily Telegraph and Ritz hotel in London and are engaged in a lengthy legal battle to obtain a 1 billion VAT refund from HM Revenue and Customs on behalf of Littlewoods.

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