Belfast Telegraph

Grim Christmas trading sees retail profits plunge

More UK retailers have delivered grim Christmas trading updates as the cost of the big freeze is finally quantified.

Clinton Cards and Mothercare both warned that profits would fall short of City hopes after snow kept shoppers at home during the crucial shopping period.

The card shop said like-for-like sales dropped 2% in its main shops in the five weeks to January 2, while its Birthdays brand saw a 1.5% fall.

The shortfall, which will impact annual results for the year to July 31, adds to the pressure on the chain after its profits slumped from £24m in 2008 to £13m in its last financial year.

The recent downturn in fortunes has prompted the company to unveil plans to update "the look and feel" of its Clinton stores, including a new logo, revamped shop fronts and redesigned uniforms.

Chairman Don Lewin, who founded the business in 1968, said that the impact of the weather on pre-Christmas sales was "very disappointing", but added that the company believed it had the right strategy to lead a turnaround.

The business has 649 Clintons stores and a further 161 outlets under the Birthdays brand. There are also 14 branches of Birthdays in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Mothercare said toy sales were particularly affected as December's arctic blast wiped an estimated 4% off its UK sales figure for the final quarter of 2010.

UK like-for-like sales excluding VAT were down 5.8% in the 12 weeks to January 1, which led the retailer to warn that profits for the year to April were likely to be less than the City's expectations of £41m.

Mothercare said UK sales in the final quarter of 2010 had got off to a strong start but were "impacted significantly" by the snow in December.

Finance director Neil Harrington said UK like-for-like sales were down by 21% in one week in December which was particularly badly hit by snow.

Mr Harrington said: "The snow was a pain in the neck. Our customers have young babies and pushchairs or are pregnant, and don't come out in the snow.

"The snow came right at the peak time for ordering toys for Christmas."

On Wednesday HMV said its like for like sales slumped by 13.6% in the five weeks to January 1, while Next said it lost £22m in sales to the bad weather.