01 November 1999

GREAT UNIVERSAL STORES reported a 7% fall in first-half home shopping sales, attributing this to growing competition in the consumer credit and clothing sectors. The catalogue agency market had been 'particularly weak during the whole of 1999', reported GUS finance director David Tyler, with clothing sales sagging by over 10% in the six months to 30 September. GUS's position in the financial services sector is also under pressure, due, said Taylor, to increased competition from newcomers to the market. Argos, GUS's high street retail catalogue brand, also recorded a 1% decline in sales for the first-half, or 3% like-for-like. However, following the relaunch of its catalogue in September, sales were reflecting an increase 'for the first time in a long while'. GUS also confirmed that it is mulling the demerger of Experian, its data-mining and financial information business. However, a spin-off in the near future is unlikely, according to chairman Lord Wolfson who said that Experian [acquired in the US for £1 billion in December 1996] needed 'more time to develop a suitable track record'.