Simply Be was the groups stand-out performer with a 21%  sales jump

Simply Be was the group's stand-out performer with a 21% sales jump

Online, catalogue and stores retailer N Brown Group has booked what it says was "continued good trading" in its first-half and revealed plans to expand its online presence through partnerships including those with Amazon Fashion and Debenhams.

In a trading update for the 26 weeks to 2 September, N Brown said adjusted pre-tax profits grew by 1.8% to US$32.2m from $31.6m in the year-ago period.

Group revenue rose 5.6% to $453.4m, compared to $429.4m last year, helped by a 7.5% increase in product revenue and a 14.3% sales boost at its three so-called 'power brands', Simply Be, JD Williams, Jacomo.

Simply Be was the group's stand-out performer with a 21% sales jump, while revenue at JD Williams rose 12.1%, and 6.7% at Jacamo. Active customers at the three leading brands were also up, increasing by 7.5% on last year, while ladieswear revenues increased by 9.5% with 90bps increase in market share (size 16+).

Online sales meanwhile, jumped 14% year-on-year, driven by a 21% rise from its 'power brands', and 76% of all traffic from mobile devices.

Building on its "strong" online metrics, N Brown revealed it is to partner with Amazon Fashion (Simply Be and Jacamo), Middle Eastern online pureplay Namshi (Simply Be), and British department store group Debenhams (Jacamo) to further expand its online presence.

Gross margin, however, dropped 190 basis points to 54%, as expected, driven by foreign exchange headwinds.

"I am very pleased to report continued good trading in the half, with Simply Be the standout performer recording 21% growth," said CEO Angela Spindler. "We made significant ladieswear market share gains against what remains a subdued consumer backdrop. In line with other retailers, foreign exchange rates represent a headwind and this was particularly felt this half.

Spindler also shared the group's "three growth levers" going forward: continuing to gain share in the UK, growing internationally, and working in partnership with other companies to offer even more choice to customers.

"At this early stage in the second half, current trading is on track with our plan and we are focused and well prepared for the peak trading period ahead. We are confident in our ability to deliver sustainable long-term growth and achieve our international ambitions."

Sofie Willmott, retail analyst at GlobalData notes N Brown's commitment to the online channel continues to prove fruitful, enabling the retailer to outpace growth in the womenswear market, which is anticipated to rise by 2.1% in 2017.

"Since third-party selling has been identified as an additional revenue stream by many clothing retailers at a time where market growth is restricted by tighter shopper budgets, it is unsurprising that N Brown has announced partnerships as a key part of its growth strategy," she adds.

"Extending its reach will enable N Brown to further increase brand awareness and boost international sales however expansion must be managed cautiously to ensure brand image is protected and own website sales are not cannibalised."

However, to drive own-website appeal, Willmott says N Brown should prioritise customer-facing technological developments that will enhance the shopping experience, taking cues from online competitors Asos and Shop Direct which are improving their proposition at a rapid pace. "N Brown must implement features to aid conversion and at least meet the minimum expectations of savvy online shoppers, including displaying all products on a model."