A PROBE into the potential merger of Bury's JD Sports and Footasylum would leave shoppers 'worse off', say competition chiefs.

But bosses at the Pilsworth-based retailer have blasted the provisional findings by the Competition and Markets Authority, insisting their survey work was "flawed" and not representative of industry challenges.

The CMA is now inviting suggestions of ways of possibly remedying their concerns by February 25 and any views of the overall findings by March 3, with a view to publishing a final report by May 11.

Authority bosses say the merger would result in a loss of competition, with shopper seeing fewer discounts, and a lower quality of customer service. They fear it could also lead to less choice in stores and online.

Kip Meek, the independent chairman of the inquiry group examining the deal, said: "This is a large and growing market in the UK, so it is important that the CMA carefully scrutinises a deal between two key rival businesses.

"We're currently concerned that shoppers could lose out after the merger, for example through fewer discounts and less choice in stores and online. This could particularly affect younger customers and students, who shop in JD Sports and Footasylum."

But Peter Cowgill, JD's executive chairman, said: "The CMA's provisional decision is fundamentally flawed and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of our market to an alarming extent, given its six-month review.

"The competitive landscape described by the CMA is one which neither I, nor any experienced sector analyst, would recognise. Just take a walk down any major UK high street or search for Nike or adidas trainers on Google and you can see for yourself how competitive this marketplace really is.

"The CMA's provisional findings do not reflect the objective evidence, with excessive weight being placed on surveys asking hypothetical questions of a small sample of selected customers equivalent to less than 25 per cent of the footfall of one JD store in Manchester for one week, rather than assessing the reality of how consumers actually shop on a national scale.

"When the Group made its offer in March 2019, it was our intention to support Footasylum and its employees to grow the business and increase the quality, range and choice of products available to customers.

"We remain convinced that a combination of the two businesses would provide significant long-term benefits to customers, colleagues and brand partners, while maintaining Footasylum's presence on the high street as the music-inspired casual retailer which it is today."