WHAT’S IN STORE?: It hasn’t been an easy first half for Austin Reed, the classic British men’s and women’s wear retailer. The company saw first-half profits soar 79.9 percent to $5.7 million, or 3.4 million pounds, from $3.2 million, or 1.9 million pounds due exclusively to exceptional items. Stripping out a $4.3 million, or 2.6 million pound, gain from the sale of a property, profits plummeted 58 percent to $1.3 million, or 791,000 pounds. Sales in the 28 weeks to Aug. 9 fell 6.5 percent to $94.2 million, or 56.4 million pounds, from $101 million, or 60.3 million pounds. The company blamed the sales decline on a variety of factors, including SARS, the war in Iraq and London’s traffic congestion charge. “The first half was a period of transition as we completed the redevelopment of Regent Street and implemented a major reorganization and cost reduction program,” said Roger Jennings, the company’s chief executive.

Austin Reed is hoping its newly refurbished Regent Street flagship, which opened last month, will boost sales in the second half. The store has already generated a 17 percent surge in sales compared with last year, although Austin Reed added that overall group sales fell 6 per cent in the first eight weeks of the second half. — Ellen Burney

BAD CREDIT: The U.K. Office of Fair Trading has revealed it is looking into allegations that Harrods has been sending unsolicited credit cards to its store cardholders. Last Wednesday, the OFT ruled that Marks & Spencer plc had contravened credit laws by automatically replacing customers’ store cards with a new credit card called “&more.” It appears Harrods has been replacing customers’ store cards with new Harrods gold Mastercards. Under British law, individuals must make a written request for credit cards. The OFT has rejected Marks & Spencer’s argument that it was merely upgrading 2.6 million of its existing store cardholders, and ruled that the retailer did not have the right to change one type of card into another. — E.B.

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