Fashion and homewares retailer Laura Ashley posted a fall in second half sales as it continues to reduce its high street presence and beef-up its Internet business.

The firm said Friday its UK retail sales fell 1.7 percent in the 19 weeks to December 10, reflecting the closure of five unprofitable stores this year and 14 last year.

Sales at stores open over a year increased 1.4 percent over the 19-week period, taking year to date growth to 2.5 percent.

Laura Ashley said e-commerce sales grew 9.0 percent.

With consumers' disposable incomes being squeezed by rising prices, muted wages growth and government austerity measures, retailers are nervous about spending in the key Christmas trading period and high street discounting is rife.

Laura Ashley has coped better than most, posting a 28 percent rise in first-half profit in September.

Shares in the firm, which have risen 13 percent over the last year, were unchanged at 19.25 pence, valuing the business at 140 million pounds.

(Reporting by James Davey; editing by Neil Maidment)