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AO World warns of product shortages as Black Friday nears

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AO World has warned of shortages of electrical products and delivery drivers before Christmas, as coronavirus disruption pushed one of the pandemic winners into a £10m loss between April and September.

Issuing its second profit warning in two months, the online retailer said shortages had been particularly acute in electronics such as Apple’s iPhone and games consoles including Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox.

AO World, which started selling mainly white goods such as washing machines, said it was experiencing “meaningful supply chain challenges with poor availability in certain categories, particularly in our newer products where we have less scale, experience and leverage”, before popular shopping periods including Black Friday.

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The company highlighted a shortage of components for manufacturers, which are in a global battle for supplies of semiconductor chips that are used in devices from toothbrushes to electric cars.

AO World shares fell by 15% by midday to about 105p, knocking nearly £90m from its market value. The company’s market value has fallen from £2.1bn in January to just over £500m on Tuesday afternoon, a loss of three-quarters of its worth.

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AO, founded by its chief executive John Roberts in 2000, had soared in value during the pandemic, as store closures for large parts of 2020 and 2021 plus increased household savings adding to consumer spending power. That helped the company surge past its 2014 float price of 285p a share, and it broke above 400p for the first time in December as investors looked for companies that could continue selling through lockdowns.

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AO said it had remained “resilient”, with revenues up 6% year on year to £761m in the six months to 30 September. However, it lost £10m before tax during that period, compared with a profit before tax of £18m in 2020.

Adding to concerns about price increases that have prompted the Bank of England to prepare to raise interest rates, AO also warned that “shipping costs, material input prices and consumer price inflation remain challenging uncertainties”.

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Roberts highlighted rising prices for oil, plastics and metals that have been passed on by manufacturers. He added that the company had spent £15m extra on drivers’ wages to make sure it could recruit enough to get 1,000 vans on the road each day.

He said the company had “inevitably been affected by the constraints and uncertainty seen across our industry” but he believed AO will benefit as more people shop online.

“The practicalities in terms of the macro disruptions are very much out of our control, but we made the decision to invest in our infrastructure,” he said, adding that he believed customers would eventually “reward” the company for investments such as a fridge recycling facility in Telford, Shropshire, England.