Fast forward 10 months and all is forgiven. The online supplier of fridges and TVs ended a knockout year in which its share price quadrupled to more than 400p with its “strongest ever peak trading period” and Roberts, never one for understatement, claiming to have seen “10 years of change in 10 months”.
UK sales rocketed two-thirds to £457.3m and even its faltering German operations are firing on all cylinders with turnover up more than three-quarters to €73.6m (£65.6m).
Lockdown has provided a double whammy with the Bolton-based chain benefiting not only from what it sells but how it sells it too.
We need more fridges and freezers to store all that extra food; second and third TVs to cater for everyone’s home entertainment needs; and extra laptops, as the working from home revolution drags on. The jury’s out on washing machines. Be honest, when was the last time those tracksuit bottoms were put through a spin cycle? Still, with a quick trip to the local Dixons out of the question, the only option is to have all this extra electrical equipment delivered to the front door.
That means the moment when AO World’s generous staff bonus scheme starts to pay out is drawing closer – the first milestone its share price must hit is 520p. Yet it isn’t quite a home-run yet.
Its problem is no longer whether demand can meet expectations but whether it can keep up, with a warning that it has incurred “significantly higher costs”, knocking 5pc off the share price to leave it at 358p.
That’s still a long way off from the 941p level at which point 3,000 workers stand to share a £140m pay pot, equivalent to an average of nearly £50,000 per worker.
But as Shore Capital analyst Greg Lawless says: “This is AO World’s moment to shine.” The question now is whether the retailer can live up to it.
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