A reduced level of promotional activity stymied sales growth at Argos in the run-up to Christmas and beyond but margins improved.

The multichannel retail giant engineered a 25 basis point upswing in gross margin as it tried to limit price cuts. Sales were up just 0.1 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

Total sales growth over the period — the 18 weeks to 3rd January — was 0.8 per cent to £1.82bn, parent company Home Retail Group said in a statement to the stock market, thanks to new space and online.

As with other retailers, Black Friday changed the shape of trade over the Christmas period, with electrical products selling well overall in comparison to prior years and offsetting declines in its jewellery category.

It made no mention — positive or negative — of furniture, homewares or its new Heart of House brand.

A net nine stores were added in the period as part of its previously announced trials, including seven Argos digital concessions within Homebase stores and three small format digital stores. The Argos portfolio now comprises 756 stores.

Internet sales for the period represented almost half of total Argos sales at 49 per cent, up from 46 per cent for the same period last year.