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Online growth boosts niche players

Niche home shopping retailers saw an uplift in Christmas trading, despite stronger competition from mainstream players.

With traditional chains such as Next and Marks & Spencer ramping up their online offer, specialists were under more pressure for Christmas 2006.

But home shopping group Otto UK posted a 14% sales rise over Christmas across its four main brands: Freemans, Grattan, Look Again and Kaleidoscope. Internet sales were up by more than 90%.

Chief executive Mike Hancox, who joined Otto UK in December 2005 from Littlewoods, said: "The really pleasing and slightly surprising result was from womenswear. We used celebrity endorsements in Grattan and Freemans catalogues, launched at the end of November, and that led to a general uplift in womenswear." Grattan womenswear was up 15% and Freemans up 22% for the six weeks to Christmas.

Mike Tomkins, chief executive of discount mail-order company M and M Direct, expects to post a 20% rise in like-for-like sales for the year to the end of February, with profits of about £62 million, after a "very positive" Christmas. He said: "This is the first year where shoppers have really started to feel confident shopping online."

Boden managing director Julian Granville said Christmas trading was up 30%, slightly below a target of 35%. "It was tougher than last year because of market sentiment and increased competition, both in remote shopping and in stores. But people are increasingly happy to buy remotely."

Tom Joule, owner of men's. women's and kids' retailer Joules Clothing, said home shopping sales exceeded expectations this Christmas.

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