Fears over future of 27 Argos stores in province
Retailer Argos wouldn't be drawn on how many of its stores in Northern Ireland would be affected by its plans to shut 75 shops across the UK.
Parent company Home Retail Group announced yesterday it would implement the swingeing cuts to its 739-strong store estate and reduce the circulation of the traditional Argos catalogue - launched in 1973 - as it refocuses the chain as a digital retailer.
It plans to move shops into shorter leases to be able to relocate as part of a plan to use stores as product pick-up points.
Argos has 27 stores in Northern Ireland but wouldn't say how many, if any, would be closed.
An Argos spokeswoman said: "We are committed to a local and national spread of stores. We can not at this stage give details of individual stores which may be affected because it depends on lease negotiations at the time."
A statement from Home Retail said: "Stores and catalogues will remain important, but their roles will be adapted in order to support a digital offer."
The news comes after a six-month review of the Argos chain to revive the business. In half-year results also announced yesterday, Home Retail said underlying earnings at Argos were 3% down at £3.3m with a return to like-for-like sales growth, up 0.6% to September 1.
Argos boss John Walden, who was appointed earlier this year to revitalise the chain, said it was unlikely the catalogue would be axed altogether, but admitted it may decline "precipitously" as sales shift online.
He said it would be "foolish" to pull it now, with around 85% of customers having seen the catalogue before they buy. He added that the group would keep stores "at the centre of what we do".
The group has reduced the number of catalogues it prints by around 18% over the past two years to between 16 and 17 million copies twice a year, which are collected by customers in store.
Analyst Philip Dorgan at Panmure Gordon saying the revamp was no "magic bullet".
Analysts at Singer Capital Markets said they believe "a more radical shake-up is needed".
Home Retail shares rose 6% as interim results came in at the top end of City expectations, despite group-wide underlying pre-tax profits falling 37% to £18m.
But trading was tough for its DIY chain Homebase, which saw underlying earnings fall 18% to £24.5m.
Number of stores the Argos chain currently has in Northern Ireland