Ao.com has had a turbulent year, with the retailer floating, soaring in value and issuing a profit warning within 12 months.
A profit warning from Ao.com on the anniversary of its controversial IPO will only have added to the schadenfreude felt by detractors keen to cast doubts on the long-term profitability of the online giant.
Having floated on the stock market at 285p with a valuation of £1.2bn 12 months ago, shares in the business initially soared. They jumped almost 40% to give Ao.com a valuation of £1.7bn, more than 150 times earnings.
Yet Ao.com boss John Roberts was last week forced to admit that full-year sales and profits would not meet expectations after the publicity surrounding its IPO gave sales a boost that has proven impossible to sustain.
He maintained: “This is a relatively small slowdown in sales over a quarter for a high-growth, consumer-facing business. In any business that is high-growth there might be the odd bump on sales rates.”
But the result was a 47% fall in the retailer’s share price, almost as dramatic – and dare it be said as big a knee-jerk – reaction by the City as that initial bubble 12 months ago.
Has Ao.com in one quarter suddenly become an uninvestable business? After all, there were no signs trouble was looming when it reported in the third quarter. Have fundamental flaws in its business model – flaws some critics tried to expose a year ago – been exposed?
The answer to both those questions is no. The market for white goods is well suited to online purchasing and growth in ecommerce sales of domestic appliances is expected to far outstrip the overall market. And
Ao.com is particularly well placed to benefit with its focus on price and service.
What this warning shows is that, like its online brethren Asos and Boohoo.com, which have also run into recent troubles, Ao.com faces many of the same stumbling blocks as traditional retailers and its valuation at IPO should have reflected that.
In January Ao.com said it was working through the loss of a logistics contract, costs associated with changes to driver legislation and the adverse effects of Black Friday – all issues the likes of which traditional retailers also battle with.
The rapid rise of the UK’s ecommerce giants has lent them an air of invincibility, and when that cracks, it brings a disproportionate level of shock. But that rapid rise does not mean these businesses are not built to last if they are based on the same fundamentals as their more traditional counterparts.
And as Ao.com and its etail peers strive to create sustainable long-term growth, the naysayers will move onto the next thing.
- Chris Brook-Carter, Editor-in-chief