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Martha Lane-Fox, founder
"We're pleased with this solid set of results"
 real 56k

Monday, 4 December, 2000, 18:02 GMT
Lastminute posts 36m loss co-founders Brent Hoberman (left) and Martha Lane-Fox
Lastminute now has almost three million registered subscribers
Pioneering website, which has announced a loss of 35.7m, is turning to the old-fashioned telephone to bolster sales.

Brent Hoberman, chief executive at the online retailer, has credited as a "strategic breakthrough" a facility which will allow customers to book items such as theatre tickets, holidays and gifts over the phone.

The phone service, which is developing with scientists at Edinburgh University and telecoms giant Nortel Networks, will boost the site's customer base by allowing internet haters to access services, the company said on Monday.

And the facility will be a "European first" in using voice recognition software, rather than human operators or keypad selection programmes, for taking orders, Mr Hoberman said.

"Currently no other European company has transactional voice capabilities," Mr Hoberman said in the firm's results statement for the year to the end of September.

Below forecasts

The 35.7m net loss for the year, which compared to a 4.5m loss in 1999, was worse than some analysts had expected.

Allan Leighton, chairman,
Allan Leighton: Lastminute speeding towards breakeven

But Goldman Sacks analyst Phil Clark said: "They [the figures] came in ahead of what we were looking for on the revenue side."

Company chairman Allan Leighton, the former Asda head, said the site's purchase of French online retailer Degriftour had speeded progress to breakeven.

The takeover, which was completed last month, and Monday's results place the site "ahead of forecasts... helps reduce our risk profile and brings forward the time when we expect to become cash-flow positive", Mr Leighton said.

Lastminute co-founder Martha Lane Fox told the BBC the site is on track to reach profitability by the end of 2002.

The retailer's shares, which reached a high of 555p on their flotation, recovered 6.5p on Monday to close at 78p.

Subscriber boom

The number of subscribers to services increased nearly eightfold to 2.85 million over the 12 months.

More than 34m of flights, hotels and other items were booked through the site, which aims to offer impulse buyers bargains on products approaching their sell-by date, such as imminent flights.

Last year, the total value of goods bought was 2.65m.

While the firm was originally known for its offers on flights and holidays, non-travel items, such as jewellery, books and chocolates, now account for 43% of sales, Monday's statement said.

Foreign expansion

The retailer has signed 'm-commerce' deals with One2One and Bouygues Telecom to help ensure users of new-generation mobile phones can purchase through the site., which services chiefly UK, French, German, Swedish and Australian customers, is set this week to launch in Spain, the Netherlands and Italy.

In October, readers of a UK newspaper voted Lastminute the worst travel website.

The site, which had earlier won a string of professional awards, has challenged the validity of the poll.

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | Business
Lastminute voted 'worst' travel site
11 Oct 00 | Business
Lastminute move for Asda's Leighton
14 Aug 00 | Business
Lastminute nets French rival
03 Aug 00 | Business
Lastminute losses narrow
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