Camera specialist Jessops yesterday promised more stores with a greater focus on digital processing after an "encouraging" start to a trial run.

The format, which offers more kiosks and a specialist member of staff to assist customers, has been tested in six shops and will be extended to another 12 sites by the end of October, the retailer said.

Leicester-based Jessops is now handling more than two million digital prints a week and said digital printing exceeded traditional film for the first time in August.

The update on digital processing, which already accounts for some ten per cent of business, came as Jessops indicated that trading had stabilised after an unexpectedly difficult start to the calendar year.

Like-for-like sales fell by almost ten per cent in February but the figure stood 2.6 per cent lower in the 25 weeks to September 18, a trading statement revealed.

Gross margins also improved because of initiatives including an increased focus on exclusive merchandise deals and closer ties with suppliers.

Jessops, which has 278 outlets, said profits for the year to September 30 were in line with market expectations for a figure in the range of £13.2 million to £15.3 million. It achieved profits of £17.5 million a year earlier.

The company told investors it had been helped by sales of digital SLR cameras and the encouraging signs from the digital p r o c e s s i n g m a r k e t , where second half sales were up 71 per cent to counter a 22-percent decline in traditional film work.

Total camera sales in the second half were up two per cent by volume and six per cent by value, with digital cameras accounting for 87 per cent of sales in the sector.

Jessops added the market for compact cameras had become increasingly competitive and that its market share in this area had declined slightly. This was balanced by a greater slice of the camcorder sector, although the market had toughened.

The six stores adapted in August to offer an enhanced digital processing service were at Milton Keynes, Moorgate, Solihull, Leamington Spa, Cribbs Causeway, near Bristol, and Bournemouth.

Ten more stores will adopt the format at Maidstone, Bromley, Guildford, Reading, Fareham, Bristol, Bath, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Basingstoke.

Two new outlets would also be offering the enhanced service.