Retail Melts Down Before Christmas in the UK, Spreads to Continent

After “the worst-on-record unbelievably bad” November, even e-commerce gets hit, not just brick & mortar, on fears Christmas sales could be terrible.

With just one week left before Christmas, Europe’s fashion retail sector is showing little sign of yuletide cheer. On Monday, the shares of UK-based online fashion and cosmetics retailer Asos Plc plunged 37% to £26.14 after the company warned that Christmas shopping on its web platform had got off to a disastrous start. The stock rout, the company’s worst in almost five years, wiped more than £1.4 billion of its value and raises fears that Europe’s high street malaise may be spreading from bricks-and-mortar stores to e-commerce. Since its peak in January 2018, shares the stock has plummeted 65%.

Asos slashed its full-year sales-growth guidance for the year to August 2019 from 20-25% to 15% on the back of a “significant deterioration” in sales in November, which was followed by just a slight uptick in December. The company laid much of the blame for its weak performance on big price cuts across the market, which had forced it to sweeten its promotions to attract customers.

“In fashion we are seeing an unprecedented level of discounting, certainly something I have not seen before, and that’s across the board,” said Asos chief executive, Nick Beighton, adding that the disposable incomes of Asos’s twenty-something customers were still well below the levels they were at a decade ago. “It’s more than just the Brexit-related factors,” he said.

Another possible reason for Asos’ shrinking sales is the over-indebtedness of consumers in its domestic UK market. British household finances, among the most solvent a generation ago, are now among the most indebted of the Western world

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