Hughes expands in Cambridge

Cromwell customer Hughes Electrical has opened a new 2,000sq ft branch in Cambridge, double the size of its previous store in Burleigh Street. The expansion follows the company’s acquisition of the Darling & Wood electricals business on Cherry Hinton Road in mid 2012.

The manager of the new Cambridge store, Jack Phelps, said: “This is part of a continuing programme of investment in our branches, designed to give customers a pleasant environment in which to shop and also to choose from the widest product range. This is why we are delighted to have doubled the size of our store in Cherry Hinton Road. Despite reports about the challenges facing the electrical retail industry, we are convinced those companies that continue to invest in providing top-quality customer service combined with an excellent product range will succeed.”

A rare positive development: click & collect

Argos has reported healthy sales growth as it successfully moves to click-and-collect online ordering. It has reported 2.7% like-for-like growth during the peak autumn period, with consumer electronics, notably tablet computers, selling well. The firm’s “check and reserve” ordering service grew its share of sales from 28% to 31% over the last four months. Orders placed online via mobiles and tablets more than doubled. Some 42% of Argos’ business is now done online.

Click-and-collect is as a rare positive development for the High Street. Some analysts have suggested that retailers should turn their shops into showrooms and distribution points for their online operations. Adrian Quine, director of the British Online Retailing Association, said: “The High Street is going to look a very different place in a year’s time… Retailers must realise that now the High Street is here to compliment their online operation and not the other way around.”

Dixons had a merry Christmas

Dixons Retail has reported good sales growth over the Christmas season. Excluding store openings and closures, sales in the 12 weeks to 5th January were up 7% from the same period in 2011. UK and Ireland sales rose 8%. Profit margins had been squeezed, but Dixons stated this was due to a change in the mix of products sold (customers were particularly buying low-margin tablet computers), rather than rising costs or price discounts. Full-year profits will be £75m-£85m.

4K resolution TV – challenges ahead

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was buzzing with talk about ultra-high-definition or “4K”-resolution television technology. Though 4K resolutions represent the next step in high-definition video, standards for the format have not been defined and no one has answered the question of how to efficiently and cost-effectively distribute video, with its massive file footprint. Serious challenges in distribution will have to be overcome if it’s going to take off – and a new optical format to succeed Blu-ray may even be needed. For a detailed evaluation of the technology and distribution issues by Craig Wilson see

BRC call to freeze business rates

The British Retail Consortium is calling on local MPs to support their high streets as a priority in 2013, given that 11.3% of town centre shops are already vacant. The BRC is calling on the MPs to support a freeze in business rates, which are set to rise by 2.6% this year, saying that the 10%+ increase in the last two years has added over half a billion pounds to retailers’ costs.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: “The Autumn Statement didn’t include a pledge to freeze business rates next year, but there’s still time for the Government to do the right thing. Another steep rise would pose a serious threat to vulnerable town centres and mean fewer jobs, especially for young people…Two-thirds of MPs have already told us that they support a rates freeze next year – I urge them to keep pushing for change if they want to breathe life back into our town centres and preserve and protect local businesses.”

£1,000 p.a. budget for technology

Research by The Co-operative Electrical has revealed that UK shoppers spent an average of £1,000 each on technology in 2012. 48% bought smartphones, 28% a tablet, 22% mobile phones, and 18% an e-reader.

Samsung continue to innovate

Samsung Electronics,the world’s best-selling maker of smart TVs, is simplifying the interface of its internet connected televisions to make them more user-friendly and to improve its ability to make money from add-on services.

It also announced at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that it would be showing a super-sized 110in (279cm) 4k ultra-high resolution LCD TV; a 55in OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display that will simultaneously show two different programmes full-screen; and an oven that can cook two meals at different temperatures.

Strong online performance last December

The British Retail Consortium has reported that strong growth in online shopping stopped retail sales falling in December 2012. In the month sales were up 1.5% compared with a year earlier. Like-for-like sales rose 0.3%. This narrow gap between total sales and like-for-like sales demonstrates the small number of new store openings in 2012. Online sales still only account for just over 10% of total retail sales.

Department stores also did well, particularly John Lewis which saw a rise in sales of electricals after the demise of Comet (not a sign that the market is growing but that sales are being reallocated).

Official figures for retail sales in December will be released on 18th January.

65% prefer to shop in store

A study from Hitachi Consulting UK, which questioned 1,000 UK adult consumers, revealed that 65% would rather buy in shops, 20% prefer to shop online, and 13% prefer a combination of channels. Chris Gates, director of retail at Hitachi Consulting UK, said: “Despite the massive growth in online shopping over the years, it’s good to see that consumers haven’t fallen out of love with the British high street. The retail sector has clearly been having a difficult time lately, but our research shows that in-store shopping still has a crucial role in the modern shopping journey… The real challenge for retailers is therefore to focus on the areas that consumers really value when it comes to the in-store experience, by implementing better management systems, employee training and self-service options, whilst also promoting the flexibility and convenience of their online offering as well.”

Comet investigation launched

All 49 remaining Comet stores will close today and The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched an investigation into the purchase and administration of the retailer. A report by administrators Deloitte says that secured creditors including Hailey Acquisitions (the vehicle Opcapita used to buy Comet), will receive only £52 million of the £145 million which they are owed. Unsecured creditors, including HM Revenue & Customs (owed £26.2 million), are likely to receive nothing. The UK taxpayer will take a hit of £49.4 million to cover the redundancy, holiday and notice pay owed to Comet’s 6,600 workers.

Deloitte has received 118 expressions of interest in buying Comet – with four making offers – but all have been withdrawn due to the state of Comet’s finances.