JD Sports has delivered a fall in pre-tax profit at the half-year mark despite a minimal sales decline due to steep costs associated with fulfilling its online orders.

The sports fashion retailer posted a 61% fall in profit before tax and exceptional items of £61.9m in the 26 weeks to August 1, while sales declined 6.5% to £2.5bn.

The retailer hailed strong sales momentum during a period in which many stores across its global portfolio were closed for varying periods due to the coronavirus outbreak, but said “reduction in profitability has arisen as a result of the additional costs associated with this shift in revenues to online channels particularly during period of temporary store closures”.

JD Sports sales across its sports fashion portfolio fell 4.6% during the period to £2.4bn.

In response to a jump in online demand across its portfolio in this category, the retailer invested more than £2m in its Kingsway warehouse in Rochdale, allowing the business to have “permanent capacity to handle the volumes that we saw on Black Friday last year, every day whilst maintaining strict social distancing”.

Since store reopenings JD Sports said it has been encouraged by the “generally resilient nature of trading in our core UK and Republic of Ireland”, but flagged that footfall to major shopping locations remains a major challenge.

Sales across JD Sports’ outdoor portfolio declined 30.2% in the period to £142.5m.

The retailer has reinstated its full-year profit guidance to be in the range of “at least £265m” under IFRS 16 terms, having suspended it earlier this year at the height of the pandemic.

JD Sports executive chairman Peter Cowgill said: “Ultimately, given the unique circumstances of this trading period, we are reassured by the strength of the JD brand as demonstrated by the retention of more than 90% of the total revenues.

“However, it should be recognised that this has necessitated additional costs principally relating to the provision of enhanced health and safety measures, in all areas of the business, together with increased costs of online fulfilment, including performance marketing. 

“We are generally encouraged by our performance since the stores reopened and with our performance in the first few weeks of the second half. However, retail footfall remains comparatively weak and the recent strengthening of measures in many countries and the subsequent temporary closure of some stores reminds us that Covid-19 remains an ongoing challenge.”