The eCommerce business behind digital department stores Very.co.uk and Littlewoods.com has hailed enjoyed its fifth consecutive year of record sales and underlying profits, partly thanks to an increase in mobile transactions.

Group sales at Liverpool-based Shop Direct grew by 5.6 per cent on a like-for-like basis to £1.93bn for the 12 months to 1st July 2017.

The company, which also operates VeryExclusive.co.uk and LittlewoodsIreland.ie, increased underlying profit before tax by 10.2 per cent to £160.4m.

Shop Direct said more than half (53 per cent) of all its online sales were made through a smartphone for the first time, compared with 43 per cent a year earlier.

The growth was attributed to Shop Direct’s continued investment in mobile personalisation, including working with Google and Facebook to identify its most valuable customers and serving them relevant and timely ads and product recommendations.

Shop Direct is also using machine learning to identify customers who are exhibiting signs of lapsing and automatically contacting them with an incentive to shop; and to predict when a customer will run out of a product they’ve previously purchased, automatically sending them a reminder.

“We’re very pleased to report our fifth successive year of record sales and underlying profits. Once again, Very and m-commerce were the big drivers of our growth,” group CEO Alex Baldock said.

“Our long-term investments in digital, data, personalisation and Very are coming good. And our obsession with winning the ‘three-second audition’ on smartphones also continues to pay off. We’re delivering one of the most relevant shopping experiences on a 4.7-inch screen, with our five-star apps, digital marketing expertise and leadership in personalisation.

“Our customer already loves the upgrade she gets from our famous brands plus credit, but this business is still nowhere near its full potential. Using personalisation, we’re striving to be the easiest and most inspiring place to shop.”

Later this financial year, Shop Direct will launch an artificial intelligence-powered, ‘national language’ version of its customer service chatbot within the MyVery app.

The AI-powered conversational user interface (CUI) can answer 32 different types of customer query, recognising over 4,000 written phrases and responding accurately.

Shop Direct’s long-term vision is for Very Assistant to develop into a personal shopper for every customer.

Baldock added: "Artificial intelligence is already driving results for us and we’ll soon launch one of UK retail’s first AI-powered chatbots for customer service.

"Longer term, we believe AI will bring scale to personalisation so digital retailers like us can be every bit as personal as stores. Very Assistant 2.0 will be another step closer to us democratising the personal shopper."