UK casual wear brand FatFace has recorded a 4% increase in earnings for the first half of the year but reported “tougher” conditions over the Christmas period.

For the 26 weeks to 1 January, EBITDA rose 4% to GBP15.5m, driven in part by a 2% increase in total sales to GBP122m. On a like-for-like basis, sales were flat for the year. E-commerce sales were up 6% and International sales grew 59% to GBP8.7m – but the retailer reported lower traffic in the run-up to Christmas.

December sales were broadly flat year on year. UK store sales fell 6%. However, e-commerce sales grew 16% and included a “record week of visits and sales” in the Christmas week.

“Christmas shopping patterns appear to be changing driven by Black Friday and growing consumer confidence in online delivery speed and availability. This resulted in an even later surge in December sales across our stores,” Anthony Thompson, CEO of FatFace said. “A combination of our full price strategy, international growth and investment in e-commerce and logistics delivered for FatFace this Christmas.”

FatFace confirmed that Liz Evans will join as the company’s new CEO on 1 March 2019. 

Kate Ormrod, lead analyst at GlobalData, comments: “As reported by the likes of Next and M&S, November and early December trading was tough with the unseasonal weather playing a role in FatFace’s muted Christmas results. While last year the clothing specialist was heralding a record period of full price sales in the week to 23 December 2017, declining store sales in December 2018 tell a contrasting story and create a need to tackle things differently this year.

“In an increasingly promotional environment, it is all the more difficult to drive footfall and conversion when you refrain from more traditional Black Friday discounting, with at least 20% off now the norm in the sector.

“Weather-inappropriate outerwear and knitwear struggled, though FatFace did strive to combat the inhibitive weather by bringing spring lines such as lightweight jersey items forward. With weather patterns repeatedly proving unseasonal in Q4, we expect this move to be repeated in 2019.

“As a retailer in the midmarket FatFace must ensure it doesn’t get caught out and follow the same fate as M&S and Next, with a need to inject more personality and aspiration into the brand in order to ignite wants-driven purchases and seize gifting opportunities, better competing with the likes of Joules.”