Marks and Spencer boss vows to improve clothing sales

Marks & Spencer store Image copyright Getty Images

Marks and Spencer's new chief executive has vowed to turn around the fortunes of its struggling clothing division.

Sales in the clothing and home arm fell by 2.7% on a like-for-like basis in the 13 weeks to 26 March.

New chief executive Steve Rowe took over form Marc Bolland this month.

"Although the sales decline in clothing and home was lower than last quarter, our performance remains unsatisfactory and there is still more we need to do," said Mr Rowe.

"Turning around our clothing and home business by improving our customer offering is our number one priority."

Overseas challenges

Mr Rowe, former executive director of general merchandise, replaced Mr Bolland on 2 April.

The clothing decline was less steep than analysts had expected, but the division has seen just one quarter of like-for-like sales growth in 21 quarters.

On food, M&S said that like-for-like sales were unchanged, but that thanks to the opening of 80 new stores during the year it had seen its market share grow to 4.3%.

Meanwhile, the High Street firm said that there had been improvements in its digital offering.

It said there had been improvements to the firm's website including increased website speeds and ease of navigation, and sales from M& rose 8.2%.

On its international business, the company said it expected to see continued "challenging trading conditions".

Well positioned

Clive Black, head of research at Shore Capital, says fixing M&S's clothing problems, "while not necessarily insurmountable... will not be an easy or quick process. If it was then we assert that it would have been done so before now".

He added: "Equally, we do not believe that it is an impossible task either and Steve Rowe may be particularly, nay distinctively, positioned to make the necessary changes to see things through as an M&S 'lifer'.

"The solutions somewhat obviously revolve around product, merchandising, marketing and price to the extent that M&S can engineer a necessary process of positive change that delivers sustainable same-store and then trading profit growth in general merchandise."

And Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said: "Clothing continues to be a rather large millstone around Marks and Spencer's neck, with yet another quarter of declining sales.

"New boss Steve Rowe intends to tackle this problem head on, but we have to wait until May to get details of his strategy to revitalise the brand."

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