From big administrations to political hot potatoes, retailers have seen it all. Caroline Parry charts the big moments in the year that was.


Hotel Chocolat (January 20)

Hotel Chocolat

Hotel Chocolat

The chocolatier launched its first Roast + Conch store and cafe in London’s Covent Garden, complete with roasting cocoa beans on view for customers.

Retailers were gloomy as the New Year dawned, with many remaining cautious about the year to come. Not even the upcoming Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the London Olympics and Paralympics were expected to provide much respite from the gloom - a sales boost was not predicted.

That mood was reflected in Retail Week’s Retail 2012 report, based on the views of 25 chief executives and chairmen, which forecast more big failures, the need for tactical behaviour, particularly around price, and the continued growth of multichannel, particularly mobile. Value for money products and innovation were also highlighted as key to success in 2012.

The first big news story of the year was value fashion retailer Peacocks collapsing into administration shortly after Christmas, following the debt-laden business’ failure to secure a deal with its lenders.

The collapse, which put 10,000 jobs at risk, was one of the biggest since Woolworths entered administration at the end of 2008.

In contrast, rival Primark’s sales surged 16% for the 16 weeks to January 7. However, it faced employee issues in Northern Ireland as staff prepared to strike over pay freezes.

Peacocks was not the only Christmas casualty - lingerie retailer La Senza was sold to the UK division of Middle Eastern trading house Alshaya UK following a pre-pack administration.

In the grocery sector, Asda had a good Christmas as its market share edged further ahead of its nearest rival Sainsbury’s. The grocer delivered sales growth of 10.7% in the four weeks to December 24.

“We need to step change the performance of the UK business”

Philip Clarke, Tesco

Philip Clarke, Tesco

Tesco, by contrast, faced problems including a slowdown at its core domestic business and a profits warning.
Chief executive Philip Clarke outlined plans to invest in improving customer experience, with increased focus on personalisation and better category management, after a 2.3% like-for-like decline in its UK business.

Boots outlined plans to ramp up its multichannel offer after a strong Christmas performance thanks toinvestment in a new £50m warehouse, which was part of a plan to speed up online sales. It planned to introduce next-day and named-day delivery at a later date.

In recruitment the big news was in the electricals sector as Dixons boss John Browett announced his departure to join Apple as senior vice-president of retail. It came as Dixons said it had reclaimed vital ground from the supermarkets thanks to a renewed focus on customer service. Operations director Sebastian James was named as his replacement.

“We need to step change the performance of the UK business”

  • Monthly BRC retail sales -0.3%


Cheap Monday’s first store (February 17)

Cheap Monday

Cheap Monday

H&M-owned brand Cheap Monday and sister retailer Monki launched their first standalone UK stores on London’s Carnaby Street.

As the year entered its second month, it became clear that trouble was afoot at video games specialist Game as it planned to offload its loss-making overseas business.

January’s ailing retailer, Peacocks, was saved at the eleventh hour by acquisitive retail group Edinburgh Woollen Mill. It bought the brand, stores and concessions and pledged to invest £50m in the value group over the next four years. Meanwhile, private investment firm OpCapita completed its acquisition of Comet from former parent group Kesa. Former Dixons boss John Clare was appointed as chairman.

A number of retailers had changes at the top. Home Retail Group named John Walden, a former Best Buy and Sears executive, as the new managing director of Argos. Simon Calver took over as chief executive of maternity specialist Mothercare and Shop Direct chief executive Mark Newton-Jones resigned after eight years. He will step down in 2013.

Sales slowdowns hit retailers across the industry. Profits were affected at SuperGroup, owner of young fashion brand Superdry, which revised its full-year forecast, and also at fashion retailer French Connection, which issued its second profits warning in six months.

“If you want a nice garment that has style, is well made and doesn’t fall to pieces, you come to us”

Stephen Marks, French Connection, on product quality, following a second profit warning

Stephen Marks, French Connection, on product quality, following a second profit warning

Chocolatier Thorntons’ profits fell from £8.4m in the previous year to £3.1m. It immediately outlined a £6m store investment programme and a raft of closures.

Multichannel growth gained momentum as a number of retailers unveiled investment plans. Mamas & Papas launched free in-store wi-fi and toy retailer The Entertainer revealed a raft of multichannel services including 30-minute click-and-collect.

Elsewhere, Maplin signed a deal with delivery specialist Shutl to offer 90-minute delivery slots, and womenswear retailer Hobbs announced an £18m investment in multichannel integration and international expansion.

There were further problems for Tesco as it became embroiled in public outrage over claims that it was exploiting young people as part of its participation in a Government-backed work experience scheme. The scheme’s detractors said benefits claimants were being forced to work unpaid - other retailers including Argos and Superdrug also withdrew from the scheme.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales -0.3%


Topshop goes to Vegas (March 9)

Topshop, Las Vegas

Topshop, Las Vegas

Topshop brought a little British style to the party town of Las Vegas with the opening of a 20,000 sq ft Topshop and Topman flagship store.

Another big administration rocked the retail industry as video games specialist Game collapsed.

Potential buyers circled and PwC was appointed as administrator as the business failed to raise the £108m needed to pay banks and suppliers. Its administration meant the closure of 277 stores and the loss of 2,104 jobs.

That wasn’t the only bad news for the month - luxury retailer Fenn Wright Manson went into administration but was rescued by Maxine Hargreaves-Adams, the daughter of Matalan founder John Hargreaves.

Tesco’s problems rumbled on after UK chief executive Richard Brasher abruptly left the business as the repercussions of January’s profit warning continued. Chief executive Philip Clarke assumed control over the UK business, saying it would allow him to keep a closer eye on its progress.

“People buy into brands they like. Our focus is really taking a brand and enhancing it”

Philip Day, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, on Peacocks

Philip Day, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, on Peacocks

In contrast, luxury department store group Harvey Nichols signalled record-breaking results for the year to March. Profit passed £18m as its turnover rose to £180m.

Malcolm Walker, chief executive of Iceland, took full control of the frozen goods retailer in a £1.4bn deal as it opened its first store in the Czech Republic. Further European expansion was expected to follow.

Multichannel was the buzzword for many as John Lewis revealed a £400m investment in “growth and multichannel leadership” across its department store group and grocer Waitrose.

It also took its first steps into physical retail overseas through a tie-up with South Korean department store retailer Shinsegae.

Morrisons’ boss Dalton Philips outlined a vision of the grocer as a “multichannel, multi-format” business as he appointed former Peacocks managing director Tim Bettley as its first commercial director for clothing.

Fashion etail giant Asos got in on the act as well, and launched click-and-collect using stores on the Collect+ delivery network to remain competitive as fulfilment increasingly became a retail battleground.

A major overhaul was on the cards at Carpetright as it outlined plans to refurbish its entire estate after February’s profit warning.

Change was also afoot at outdoors specialist Blacks. The retailer, which also owns Millets, said it would revamp its stores and product to target the family market following JD Sports’ £20m acquisition of the business at the beginning of the year.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +1.3%


M&S hires Joanna Lumley (April 27)

Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley

Marks & Spencer appointed Joanna Lumley as its “global eco ambassador” as she kick-started the retailer’s Shwopping initiative, which encourages consumers to recycle clothing.

Fears that the UK would register its consecutive second quarter of negative growth and hence slip back into recession were confirmed as the Office of National Statistics reported that the economy had shrunk by 0.2% in the first quarter of the year. It came on top of a 0.2% dip in the last three months of 2011.

“What’s important is that we restate and reignite what makes us unique” Sam Thomson, The Body Shop, on revamping the brand

There was happier news for Game after private investment firm OpCapita acquired 333 stores, saving 3,200 jobs. The new owner said it would focus on “re-engaging suppliers and staff”.

Game wasn’t the only retailer suffering problems - Clinton Cards appointed KPMG to carry out radical restructuring after it failed to sell the Birthdays group. The strategic review was due to be unveiled at the end of month but it was delayed.

It wasn’t all bad news though. Some value retailers, such as Poundstretcher, had a successful time. The retailer revealed plans to open about 500 UK stores.

And Tesco started its fight back after a few difficult months. Chief executive Philip Clarke outlined a £1bn investment programme including £200m on staff training, £200m in online development, £200m revamping 430 stores and the rest on marketing, range and quality improvements.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales -3.3%


Hollister (May 18)



Abercrombie & Fitch opened its joint Hollister and Gilly Hicks flagship on the south end of Regent Street. Hollister-clad lifeguard lookalikes were despatched to keep an eye on the queues.

Clinton Cards’ problems came to a head as it collapsed into administration. The move led to the closure of 350 of its 771 stores and the entire Birthdays chain. Chief executive Darcy Willson-Rymer left the business.

Lakeshore Lending - a subsidiary of American Greetings - eventually acquired 397 stores.

Morrisons revealed its first slip in like-for-like sales for seven years as analysts suggested it had lost momentum. Chief executive Dalton Philips said he remained confident in its Fresh format model and the decision not to go down the price-match route.

“We have more stability at the top table than any other retailer”

Dalton Philips, Morrisons, brushing off a spate of senior management departures

Dalton Philips, Morrisons, brushing off a spate of senior management departures

A slowdown in expansion has been a trend this year, with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and, in May, Marks & Spencer all reining in store expansion plans. M&S said it would reduce growth from 3% in 2012 to 2.5% in 2013.

Ereaders were also a hot topic throughout 2012 and especially in May, when Waterstones signed a shock deal with online rival Amazon to stock the Kindle. Waterstones was hoping the deal would help boost its high street stores.

Mary Portas’ 12 Pilot town centres were revealed this month, including Liskeard and Stockport. They each got a share of a £1.2m pot of Government cash.

Elsewhere, Carpetright founder and chief executive Lord Harris of Peckham stepped back from the day-to-day running of the retailer. He was replaced by former Sainsbury’s finance director Darren Shapland.

It wasn’t a great month for Halfords, the retailer reported a 26.6% drop in full-year profits.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +1.3%


DFS (June 1)



DFS opened its first high street store on furniture hotspot Tottenham Court Road. The two-floor store featured a ‘floating sofa’ (pictured), iPads with its room planner app and TVs showing DFS ads.

US pharmacy giant Walgreens snapped up 45% of Alliance Boots for $6.7bn (£4.15bn), with an option to buy the rest of the business in three years.

Despite mixed weather, during the Diamond Jubilee weekend shopper footfall rose by 8.6% week on week. But while the grocers reported a rise in sales of party food, fashion retailers said the celebrations had kept shoppers indoors.

“We need to think like a start-up on costs. We need to prioritise our expenditure”

Simon Calver, Mothercare

Simon Calver, Mothercare

Following full-year results showing a loss, new Mothercare boss Simon Calver outlined plans to turn the struggling babycare retailer into a “lean” business by axing 110 stores, cutting costs by 20% in three years and driving online and overseas sales. Kingfisher blamed April’s rain for a 9.8% drop in retail profit in its first quarter, while Jessops posted a surge in full-year EBITDA of 29.8% despite a “very challenging” 12 months.

There was sad news in Croydon as department store Allders collapsed into administration and was set to close.

In-store experience became a new battleground this year as Tesco revamped 400 stores and Sainsbury’s upped its refurbishments from eight stores in 2011 to up to 20 in 2012. Asda planned to overhaul 39 stores while Morrisons was rolling out its Fresh format. Morrisons also revealed that finance director RichardPennycook will leave the grocer in 2013.

Marks & Spencer outlined plans to launch into banking. The first branch opened in July at its Marble Arch flagship.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +1.4%


Toy Kingdom opens (July 20)

Toy Kingdom

Toy Kingdom

Harrods unveiled a £7m revamp of its 26,000 sq ft toy department, which features a science-themed room called The Odyssey and an enchanted forest with real trees.

Marks & Spencer posted a 6.8% slide in its UK general merchandise sales on the same day it revealed a major reshuffle of its team.

The long-anticipated departure of general merchandise director Kate Bostock was announced and she was immediately replaced by former food boss John Dixon.

Retail veterans John Lovering and John Cleland, the new management team at electricals specialist Maplin, outlined plans to invest £40m over the next three and a half years as they focused on improving the business.

Comet chairman John Clare, meanwhile, told Retail Week that the electricals chain was “on track” to return to growth in 2012.

“Break-even or better is our target for year one. If we do, it points to opportunities in year two”

John Clare, Comet

John Clare, Comet

Poundland hired former Tesco chief executive of retailing services Andrew Higginson as non-executive chairman in a move that was seen as indicative of the advance of the single-price sector.

A raft of fashion retailers including New Look and Ted Baker looked to Germany for expansion after signing deals with department store group Karstadt.

The month ended on a high thanks to a triumphant opening ceremony for the Olympics. Retailers were hopeful the event would have a positive impact on sales.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +1.4%


Tesco Food To Go (August 3)

Tesco Food To Go

Tesco Food To Go

Tesco opened its first Food To Go shop-in-shop in Chester. The 1,500 sq ft store features a time-of-day offer, so shoppers can choose from different ranges for different meal times.

Olympic hopes took a blow as London footfall fell 11.7% year on year on the first Saturday of the sporting extravaganza. The grocers enjoyed their best four-week period of the year, but overall the Games did more for national morale than retail sales.

Compelling delivery options, such as next-day delivery for orders made before 9pm, helped Next to drive a 13.3%surge in sales from its Directory in the six months to July 28. The fashion retailer raised its full-year pre-tax guidance by £15m to between £575m and £620m as total sales increased 6.5%.

There were signs of revival at Tesco as four-week Kantar data showed it notched up growth of 5.1%, ahead of Asda’s 4.9%. And it was a good month for Ann Summers, which posted a 78% rise in sales, helped by the success of erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Market share is important but it is not the be all and end all”

Peter Marks, Co-operative Group

Peter Marks, Co-operative Group

The Co-operative, on the other hand, suffered a 2.2% drop in sales, while like-for-likes dipped 1.2% for the six months to June 30. It came as the group’s chief executive Peter Marks announced he planned to retire in 2013 after 45 years at the group.

The future began to look bleak for JJB Sports as its US backer, Dick’s Sporting Goods, which bought into the retailer in April, wrote off the value of its £20m investment and scrapped plans to invest a further £20m in 2013.

By the end of the month, it was up for sale.

Kingfisher’s Ian Cheshire and KPMG analyst Helen Dickinson were named as the new BRC chairman and

  • Monthly BRC retail sales -0.4%


Primark opens on Tottenham Court Road



Primark opened an 82,000 sq ft flagship at the Tottenham Court Road end of Oxford Street on September 20.

Buyers circled troubled sportswear group JJB Sports, with Sports Direct eventually acquiring its stock and 60 stores. The rest of the 180-strong chain was placed into administration.

Elsewhere, the financial reporting season produced a mixed picture with John Lewis, Dunelm, Asos,Debenhams, The Hut and House of Fraser showing growth in like-for-like sales and profits. Next posted a slip in like-for-likes due to an “unusually quiet August and September”. Argos, French Connection, HMV, Ocado and B&Q-owner Kingfisher all experienced a fall in like-for-like sales, with the appalling summer weather taking much of the blame.

Shrinking store estates were a central feature of 2012, and in September B&Q started a review of its 360-strong estate to see how many stores it will need in an omnichannel world.

“The rates system is a substantial contributor to lower investment in the high streets”

Alex Gourlay, Alliance Boots, on Retail Week’s Fair Rates for Retail campaign

Alex Gourlay, Alliance Boots, on Retail Week’s Fair Rates for Retail campaign

Retailers, including John Lewis, Morrisons and Boots, threw their weight behind Retail Week’s Fair Rates for Retail campaign to freeze business rates and change the way they are calculated. Their plea was ignored by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement, made in early December.

Morrisons finally made a move into ecommerce by revealing plans to launch a website selling wine, Morrisons-owned baby products specialist Kiddicare meanwhile opened its second store in Nottingham.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +1.5%


WHSmith Office (October 12)

WH Smith Office

WH Smith Office

WHSmith opened a new stationery fascia in London’s Baker Street.

Tesco’s eventful year continued as boss Philip Clarke outlined a “new chapter” in the grocer’s story. It planned to review space in its Extra stores, review its US business Fresh & Easy and kick-start a further digital push.

His plans followed an 11.6% fall in first-half trading profits, although like-for-likes in quarter two edged up 0.1%.

On the same day, Sainsbury’s posted a 1.9% rise in like-for-likes for the 16 weeks to September 29, following the success of its Paralympics sponsorship and Brand Match strategy.

Iceland bosses issued a rallying cry to staff after its like-for-like sales fell by 0.2% for the six months to the end of September. Strong competition on coupons and round-pound pricing and strong comparatives were blamed for the dip.

“I care about giving value for money, market share and being the best employer in Britain”

Malcolm Walker, Iceland, addressing its annual store managers’ conference

Malcolm Walker, Iceland, addressing its annual store managers’ conference

Asos confirmed Kate Bostock, the former Marks & Spencer general merchandising chief, would join its board at the same time as former Amazon UK managing director Brian McBride was named as chairman.

Former Pets at Home chief executive Matt Davies was named Halfords’ new boss, and immediately faced a 23.4% plunge in profits for the 26 weeks to September 28.

At WHSmith, long-standing chief executive Kate Swann revealed she was standing down after nine years.

Steve Clarke, managing director of its high street business, is to take the helm.

And Argos outlined a radical £300m overhaul of its business to become a “digital retail leader”. Managing director John Walden also said around 75 stores would be closed or relocated over a five-year period.

And there was shock news from Apple on October 30 as John Browett left after just six months in the role of senior vice-president of retail.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales -0.1%


JD Pro

JD Pro

JD Pro

JD Sports opened its first performance sports fascia, JD Pro, in Bow Lane in the City of London. It aimed to plug the gap left by the demise of JJB Sports.

Under controversial circumstances, Comet collapsed into administration at the start of the month. As November progressed it became clear that a white knight would not be found. All of its stores were due to be closed by Christmas with the loss of around 7,000 jobs. Its private investment owner OpCapita faced heavy criticism as it emerged that it would be one of the first creditors in line for a share of the estimated £60m that might be recovered from the retailer.

“Mobile will have a more dramatic impact on retail in a short time than online did”

John Walden, Argos

John Walden, Argos

Sainsbury’s chief executive Justin King declared that the sector was “polarising” with clear winners and losers.

Speaking as the supermarket chain posted underlying first-half profit up by 5.6% to £373m, he said Sainsbury’s was “well ahead of our competition”.

There was public outcry when it was revealed Amazon, Starbucks and Google had paid just £30m in corporation tax in the past three years. Some consumers vowed to boycott the US business and rival retailers called for reforms.

Arcadia owner Sir Philip Green unveiled a 25% rise in profits at the fashion group. He also signalled the possibility of another big deal to come - foreshadowing the following month’s deal with Leonard Green & Partners.

  • Monthly BRC retail sales +0.4%


Tablet and mobile Christmas

Tablet shopping

Tablet shopping

Retailers were poised for a watershed in the development of tablet and mobile sales this Christmas. John Lewis, Argos, Marks & Spencer and Shop Direct had already experienced sales surges from devices by December 14.

After months of speculation over when Tesco would withdraw from the US, chief executive Philip Clarke launched a strategic review of its loss-making Fresh & Easy American business. The review is expected to lead to Tesco’s withdrawal from the US.

The departure of highly regarded deputy chief executive Tim Mason, who ran the US business, was announced at the same time.

“I don’t think there was any more we could have done” Philip Clarke, Tesco, on its likely withdrawal from the US

Tesco was also among eight retailers - including Aldi, The Co-operative, Lidl, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons - that agreed to new Office of Fair Trading guidelines on making promotions clearer.

Philip Green sold a 25% stake in Topshop and Topman to American investor Leonard Green & Partners, with the deal expected to fund a more aggressive US roll-out.

Dixons meanwhile outlined plans to slim down loss-making French etailer Pixmania. It was understood to be planning to pull out of a number of markets and close stores. The electricals retailer had a good first-half otherwise, reporting its first UK profit for five years - it made £5.6m at the UK business in the 24 weeks to October 13.

And retailers across the board were crossing their fingers for a good Christmas after a difficult year. Gift wise, 2012 is expected to be the year of the tablet - making a strong mobile offer in 2013 more important than ever.

  • All British Retail Consortium (BRC) figures are like-for-like figures, % change on the previous year.