River Island’s profits fell last year as the business ploughed investment into keeping up with “evolving consumer habits and expectations”.

Operating profit shrank by just over a third, declining from £125m to £80.6m during the business’ thirtieth year since rebranding from Chelsea Girl.

Sales were steady at £944.5m, just up from £943.6m, in the year to December 30, 2017.

Chief executive Ben Lewis told Retail Week that the business was investing in a multichannel, tech-driven strategy in a bid to serve an ever-evolving consumer.

He conceded that conditions were difficult but said he was “pleased” with the business’ performance.

“Last year was a difficult year for many with all the shifts taking place in how consumers spend and behave, but against that context our sales were stable and we maintained market share, so we are pleased,” he said.

Investment in technology

He added that River Island was prioritising technology, having doubled the size of its Shoreditch tech hub at the end of 2017.

“We want to be a leading retailer but we also want to be a leading tech company,” he asserted.

“Tech certainly has an impact on how consumers behave but it is also an enabler to serve them better. We are very much getting behind a mobile-first agenda and continuing to evolve our multichannel offer by investing in areas such as personalisation and supply chain.”

The retailer is investing heavily in its supply chain and logistics capabilities and using technologies including AI and RFID to improve its stock control and distribution.

River Island is also expanding its ranges, having launched homeware and about to launch babywear.

Lewis admitted current trading was tough but was tight-lipped on whether profits would recover next year or continue to drop.

“It does remain unpredictable and we are cautious in terms of outcomes generally because of that unpredictability but we are agile and well positioned to take advantage of any opportunities which arise,” he said.