Halfords has revealed that strong sales in the months leading up to Christmas eased off in December due to the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

A series of store closures also meant overall sales fell as the impact of fewer sites was felt across the business.

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As a result, total sales in its retail division fell 1.8%, although on a like-for-like basis they were up 5.6%.

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Sales of both motoring and cycling products took a hit as a result of the closures – down 1.5% and 2.1% respectively – but when comparing sales only at the remaining open stores both divisions were up 3.1% and 9.2% respectively.

Children’s bikes in particular fared badly, with bosses revealing that freight delays had compounded the impact of Omicron, which led to fewer customers visiting stores.

The company said there was “a strong performance during October and November but a drop-off in performance in the latter part of the period as the Omicron variant grew in prominence.”

Bosses said retail motoring sales would probably ease off during the year with fewer staycations expected.

In cycling, Halfords said premium adult bikes sold well – up 20% – and the rise of e-bikes continued at pace, more than doubling.

Its online Tredz business also performed well, up 47%.

Halfords’ Autocentres division was the star performer during the period, with lots of MOTs providing strong growth in the 13 weeks to the end of December.

Like-for-like sales in the centres jumped 33% in the period compared with a year ago, or 90.2% on a total basis as more sites were acquired through takeovers.

Chief executive Graham Stapleton said: “These results demonstrate the strength of our motoring services offer, and the outstanding performance from our Autocentres business confirms the rationale behind our recent acquisitions.”

He added: “The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to present a number of headwinds and put significant pressure on our colleagues, who have navigated their way through a variety of challenges and issues.”

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