Dixons Carphone is developing drive-through stores and zero-contact shops, as well as livestreaming its sales assistants, as it battles to continue trading during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Shares in the retail group, which owns the Currys, PC World and Carphone Warehouse chains, rose by 16% on Wednesday after it reported a sales decline of just 3% in the five weeks to 25 April. There had been a surge in trading via its websites.
Demand for home deliveries enabled the retailer to recover about two-thirds of sales lost in its UK stores, which are closed. Online sales jumped by 166% in the UK and Ireland, and by 16% overseas, as shoppers sought computers to cope with working from home, as well as breadmakers, gaming equipment and TVs for entertainment during the lockdown.
Despite the relatively strong sales performance, the company, which permanently closed all 531 standalone branches of its Carphone Warehouse chain last month amid poor shop sales of mobile phones, is cancelling its dividend and has secured a £266m additional debt facility as it shores up finances to cope with the coronavirus crisis.
Alex Baldock, the chief executive of Dixons Carphone, said: “We’re being prudent in conserving cash, have secured additional funding, and can plan for the future with confidence.”
He said the sales performance had been strong in those countries where the group’s stores continued to be able to operate.
“In the Nordics [Denmark and Sweden], our stores continue to operate to high social distancing and hygiene standards, providing a successful blueprint for how our UK stores can safely reopen as soon as government so decides. And we’re innovating: launching live video shopping for online customers and contactless shopping in-store.”
The group’s ShopLive personal shopping service connects customers with shop assistants at Currys PC World via a video link.
Initially, customers browsing the Currys website will be invited to chat to store staff via a pop-up video link beside a limited range of products such as laptops, TVs, washing machines and fridges. Eventually the service is expected to enable live demonstrations of products, during which customers can ask questions.
Other ideas in development include a drive-through pick-up point, so that shoppers can get access to their goods immediately without entering stores, and contactless shops, where only a small part of an existing outlet is open to the public while staff provide products and assistance from behind screens.