M&S clothing sales dip again

The scale of the task facing new Marks and Spencer marketing director Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne has been laid bare after the retailer posted an eighth consecutive quarterly fall in sales of general merchandise.  

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M&S food sales have offset clothing decline.

General merchandise sales from stores open for a year or more, which includes clothing and homeware receipts, fell 1.6 per cent in the three months to 16 June. This, however, was a slower decline than the 4.1 per cent reported in the previous quarter.

Bousquet-Chavanne, former president of Estee Lauder, replaced Steve Sharp in June. He has been pivotal in helping to develop the retailer’s Autumn/Winter collection, on sale later this month, which the company hopes will revive its fortunes.

Elsewhere, food sales continued to grow, up 1.8 per cent in the quarter. The increase pushed total like for like sales up by 0.3 per cent. M&S launched a new umbrella positioning for its food business in May with a strapline “Make Today Delicious” to play on its reputation as a destination to cater for special events.

The retailer’s investment in multi-channel continued to pay dividends. M&S.com sales grew 29.9 per cent, up from 16.6 per cent in the previous quarter.

Marc Bolland, M&S chief executive says: “Our general merchandise business showed some improvement this quarter and the food business delivered another excellent performance, continuing the strong underlying trend….We continue to make good progress with our plans to transform M&S into an international, multi-channel retailer.”

Neil Saunders, managing director of retail analyst Conlumino says the results suggest some progress is being made but there are still considerable challenges to overcome before its clothing business returns to growth.

“M&S has noted that a 0.5 per cent rise in general merchandise sales indicates that some progress is being made by the business. However, it is worthwhile reflecting that this quarter’s numbers are up against an incredibly weak comparative from last year when total GM sales were down 5.1 per cent and like for like general merchandise sales were down 6.8 per cent. The softness of the preceding numbers suggests, in our view, that progress is actually extremely limited.

“To be fair, M&S has never claimed that this season would see a revival in the fortunes of its clothing business; it is, instead, pinning its hopes on next quarter when the first ranges from its A/W13 collection have filtered through to stores.

“However, even with what is admittedly a step change on the product and range front, we still harbour concerns over the in-store execution.”

Readers' comments (2)

  • M&S continue to benefit from their very clear positioning as a premium food retailer. Their confidence in this area is reflected in the way their offer has consistently developed to meet changing shopper needs. If only the same story was true for their clothing – perhaps the new A/W range will prove the turning point?

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  • The experience in M&S stores is generally poor especially in the general merchandise areas. Attempts to build excitement, especially in Menswear through fixturing and imagery are pale imitations of established brands such as Ralph Lauren. The comment regarding price in the main article is quite right. Colleagues of mine struggle to find clothing of good enough quality at a high enough price that fits well and makes you feel great as good clothes should. Food does well because of this positioning and the environment does a good job of assaulting your senses throughout your shopping visit; General merchandise does not now and has not done so for some time. M&S are guilty of trying to compete on too many levels and achieve little on each. It's time to take a position and let the consumer know what they stand for and stop trying to be all things to all people.

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