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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 17:46 GMT
Lastminute.com's losses widen
lastminute advertising slogan
Online holiday and leisure retailer Lastminute.com has reported widening losses but stuck by forecasts of hitting breakeven in the spring.

The stalwart etailer revealed headline losses of 39.1m for the year to the end of September, compared with 35.8m for the year before.

But the City took cheer from a resilient performance in the July to September period, when losses fell 20% from the quarter before, and the value of transactions rose by 160% to 46.7m.

Lastminute's subscriber base rose 20% to 4.21m in the quarter, viewed as the most important for the travel sector.

"These results demonstrate that our business model is as robust in times of economic slowdown as in economic growth," chairman Allan Leighton said.

"We remain on track to deliver operating profitability in the UK France in approximately two quarters' time."

Lastminute shares surged 18% to 38.5p in early trade on Friday, before closing at 36.75p, up 4.25p..

The shares, which closed at 487.5p on their launch day last year, have not closed above 38p since June.

Strength in breadth

The etailer, while originally associated with travel products, credited its strength in areas such as gifts and theatre tickets for its resilience to the travel trade slowdown stemming from the 11 September attacks.

"Lastminute.com, because of the breadth of its product range, has bucked that [downward] trend," Mr Leighton said.

Trading over the last month has "continued in line with the board's expectations", he added.

Chief executive Brent Hoberman said: "We read everyday about the economic slowdown.

"But people look to value, they look to great deals and we have the supply and we have demonstrated that with the figures today."

Faster sites

Lastminute said customer growth had been supported by technological improvements, which have increased the speed of the firm's websites by nine times within the last 18 months.

The company has also reduced administration costs through measures such as streamlining correspondence with customers.

Advertising spending in the firm's key UK market fell 62% over the year.

The firm also restated its international ambitions, and the value of its tie-ups with other firms.

This month, Lastminute signed a deal in which AOL Europe would incorporated the site into its services.

In July, Lastminute bought Urbanbite, a food home-delivery service, and announced a link-up with the new media arm of broadcast giant Granada to offer sports fans late-availability tickets for football matches and the British Grand Prix.

Lastminute has also moved into over-the-phone sales, and negotiated tie-ups with the likes of Thomas Cook.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Lots of net companies with big ambitions have disappeared - this one insists it will survive"
Co-founder Martha Lane Fox
"We are absolutely on plan and where we expected to be"
See also:

19 Nov 01 | Business
Lastminute in AOL tie-up
16 Jul 01 | Business
Lastminute snaps up takeaway site
16 Aug 01 | Business
Lastminute says break-even looms
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