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Battling Dixons is the Rick Grimes of the retail Walking Dead

James Moore

“Alexa, who's going to survive the retail apocalypse? No, scratch that, the people at Amazon helped usher it in. Um, Siri? Same question?”

“I’m not sure I can answer that.”

“OK, OK, Siri, who’s done well in UK retail?”

“Here are Dixons Carphone's results.”

Yes, while it's had some nasty wobbles, Dixons Carphone is currently threatening to become the Rick Grimes of the retail Walking Dead.

For the uninitiated, he was the lead character in the long running zombie show until he departed in season nine.

Even its undead walkers seem to have been buying smart speakers from the place this year, with 8,000 a day shifted.

Of course, you need more than just Siri and its pals to start a party. Overall group sales at the retailer, which owns Currys, PC World and so on, were dead flat.

That’s not normally a reason to jump up and down and have a party. Except that in the current climate it is.

For a start Dixons had to contend with the bottom falling out of the mobile phone market and people’s reluctance to keep shelling out big bucks for new handsets that aren’t that much different to last year’s models.

The 9 per cent decline (on a like for like basis so excluding the effect of new openings or store closures) in this part of the business was largely expected.

The pleasant surprise came in UK & Ireland electricals, where the company posted a 2 per cent gain. When you consider that the overall market is thought to have shrunk by maybe 3 per cent, combined with the negative impact of the government’s Brexit brinkmanship and general mess making, that’s quite impressive.

As well as those smart speakers, the company did well with supersize TVs, wearables (Airpods, Fitbits etc), and flashy hairdryers. Games consoles, particularly the Nintendo Switch, did good business, notable given how rivals seemed to struggle with them.

Of course, the problem for Rick Dixons Grimes is how to keep the treadmill moving in the months to come. It isn’t going to get any easier. Au contraire. The economy is torpid, the government is still mucking things up for everyone and another Brexit cliff edge looms next Christmas.

Are people going to be buying smart speakers or Apple headphones or whatever in the same number given the amount of not inexpensive product that has been shifted this year? It's open to question.

Still, there are some new games consoles coming out, and 5G might provide the struggling mobile business with a shot in the arm. Contracts with the networks that incentivised volume have also been rewritten. So there’s that too.

Despite the shares getting a bit of a lift, you wouldn’t want to bet on Dixons doing much beyond walking over the year ahead. But that would represent a victory given the increasing numbers of walking dead retailers struggling to cling on.

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