Business

M&S tries to lure back shoppers with new fashion ranges

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Media captionBelinda Earl, M&S: "Our customers want... clothing that is up-to-date"

Marks and Spencer has unveiled a new clothing collection and strategy that it hopes will reverse falling sales.

The High Street giant said on Tuesday evening that its new autumn/winter collection will put "quality and style back" into M&S clothing.

With clothes sales down, analysts and investors were awaiting news of M&S's plans for this key arm of the business.

The launch "will reassert our position as a leading, premium fashion retailer," M&S said.

Chief executive Marc Bolland said the new fashion ranges, revealed at a catwalk show in central London, represented "a step in the right direction".

"We want to be very clear that this is a step-by-step approach," he said. "The team will keep on improving. What is important is the direction, and I am very confident that the direction is in style and in quality."

In April, M&S reported that sales in its general merchandise division, which includes clothing, fell 3.8% in the first three months of 2013, the seventh quarter in a row they have fallen.

Clothing, where the company still has an 11% share of UK womenswear, has been the weak spot in recent years, despite a raft of initiatives and appointments of new executives.

M&S said its initial focus would be on improving womenswear with what it promised would be "significant upgrades" in the quality of the fabric and finish. There would also be a new Best of British range, the firm said.

'Customers wanted more style'

Speaking at the launch, John Dixon, executive director of general merchandise, said: "It is the culmination of six months of extensive research that has seen us listen to our customers' views on our brand and build on our heritage.

"This has reinforced that exceptional quality, and confident style should lie at the heart of our clothing proposition and provide the M&S difference that our customers expect from us.

"This is our focus going forward that will reassert our position as a leading, premium fashion retailer," Mr Dixon said.

Mr Bolland carried out a big reshuffle of executives last year, but insisted that the impact of Tuesday's strategy would not be felt until after this year's summer lines, which were put together by the previous regime.

Mr Dixon, formerly M&S's head of food, admitted much of the British high street had "changed at a faster pace than we have" and that the chain was focused on listening to shoppers' needs. "Let's be clear that this new team is acutely aware of our core customers," he said.

He said customer feedback had said M&S "needs to improve its style credentials" - something the new clothing strategy is intended to address.

It aims to present a more streamlined look to the stores, with a 10% reduction in womenswear options and less cluttered stores.

There has been criticism of M&S's basic ranges such as underwear and knitwear. The new ranges have much more of an emphasis on fashion "with a capital F", said new style director Belinda Earl.

The former boss of Debenhams and Jaeger, who joined M&S last summer, said: "There's more of a role than ever for us to lead in fashion and design."

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