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Monday, 12 February, 2001, 10:01 GMT
Lastminute user numbers barely grow

Online retailer has announced an alliance with the travel website of Thomas Cook, one of the UK's top travel firms.

The news comes as Lastminute announced that it ran up losses of 11.71m ($17m) during the last three months of 2000, while reporting strong growth in sales and customers numbers. Net losses weighed in at 15.4m - slightly lower than expected.

The firm says it is still building the business "towards profitability", but investors may still be worried by the fact that Lastminute's subscriber base rose by just 10,000 users during the Christmas period.

At the end of the year, the company had 2.86 million subscribers. However, speaking to BBC News Online, Lastminute's chief executive Brent Hoberman said the key was not the overall number, but the "quality of subscribers".

More graphics, more sales

With more people now opting to receive graphic-rich and colourful versions of the company's e-mail with last minute offers, the "conversion rate" - the number of people actually buying on the site - had gone up sharply, he said.

Mr Hoberman added that the company had seen customer numbers grow 50% and sales go up 48% in just three months.

The firm now operates in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands and Australia, offering consumers discount deals as airlines, restaurants, travel operators and others try to fill seats or sell products.

Orders are normally taken up to six weeks in advance.

Lastminute's first minute access

The alliance with Thomas Cook is a move away from Lastminute's original concept.

The company promises its subscribers "first minute" access to millions of holidays offered by Thomas Cook, with booking times far in advance of the usual six week limit.

In return, Thomas Cook will have access to "last minute solutions", offering last minute tickets, gifts and restaurant bookings and other products on its website.

'Not a bucket shop'

Mr Hoberman wants to get rid of Lastminute's image as being just a discount travel website.

"We are not a bucket shop anymore", he said.

Lastminute's chief executive points out that 43% of all items sold through the web site are not travel related.

The firm says it now has "9,200 individual supplier relationships".

In October, completed its acquisition of Degriftour Group, a French rival.

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