Lakeland and Richer Sounds are top of the shops

Britain mad for homewares and hi-fi, says Which? - but Currys and JJB languish in the retail sin bin.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

With its army of adoring Middle Britain acolytes, ever-eager to discover the latest innovations in the cooking of eggs/protection of fruit/storage of winter clothes, home-grown homewares chain Lakeland was always going to come out well in any UK retail popularity contest. But with just 46 stores nationwide, Lakeland is still small fry compared to the bigwigs of the UK retail sector – so it’s pretty impressive that it’s just been named by Which? as the UK’s favourite shop.

The chain came joint-first with audio-visual chain Richer Sounds in the Which? top 100 retail chains survey, which asked more than 14,000 people to rate their favourite shops according to price, service, product quality and ‘store experience’. Given this last aspect, it’s perhaps no surprise the heavily design-conscious Apple Store came joint third with Lush, the beauty retailer that uses a notoriously heady love-it-or-get-a-splitting-headache-from-it soapy smell to lure customers into its stores.

At the bottom of the pile were electronics retailers Currys and Currys Digital, along with WH Smith and JJB Sports. Apparently, the Currys staff didn’t know enough about the product, while JJB employees were ‘more interested in chatting to each other than helping the customer’. So it’s perhaps no surprise that JJB has just posted some deeply unimpressive results today: sales slumped 42% during a year it described as the ‘most difficult’ in its history, leading to a whopping operating loss of £68m.

Elsewhere in the retail sector, today’s big news is that Asda has just bought cheap-and-cheerful discount chain Netto’s 193 British stores for £778m – a deal that will reinforce Asda’s position as the UK’s second largest food retailer. But perhaps the more interesting development is the news that online grocer Ocado has just signed an exclusive 10-year agreement with Waitrose. Ocado’s existing contract with the supermarket was due to expire in 2013, but it has now been extended until 2020. With its future now on a much firmer footing, Ocado will surely press ahead with plans for a £1bn flotation, probably this summer.

Although Ocado’s position remains a bit odd – it still hasn’t posted a profit yet, and this deal will allow Waitrose to compete against it directly in the all-important London area – there seems to be plenty of investors wanting a piece of the action. So expect its management to be celebrating later this summer. For what it’s worth, we hear Lakeland sells some lovely little heart-shaped silicone cake cases, available at the bargain price of £5.99.

In today's bulletin:

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Lakeland and Richer Sounds are top of the shops
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