Marks & Spencer suffers biggest clothing sales fall in 10 years

Marks & Spencer

Marks & Spencer has reported a 1.1 per cent reduction in UK sales for the first quarter of its financial year, as the retailer continues to try and turn around its struggling clothing & home division – but guidance for its full year results remains the same.

While group sales were up by 1.3 per cent in the 13 weeks to 2 July, a four per cent increase in UK food sales was offset by an 8.3 per cent drop in clothing & home sales – like-for-like sales in the retailer’s weakest arm dropped by 8.9 per cent over the period, in what the company called a “weak market”.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe said this dip was to be expected, given the company’s plans to improve the clothing division’s fortunes, including a reduced number of promotional events during the quarter. The group also began the summer sale on 5 July, two weeks later than the start date for last year’s sale.

“We knew our actions would reduce total sales but we are seeing some encouraging early signs,” Rowe said. “Our food business continues to strongly outperform a deflationary market, with like-for-like sales slightly down when adjusted for Easter timing.”

In May, M&S revealed that pre-tax profits had slumped by almost 20 per cent over the previous 12 months. Following the dismal yearly results, Rowe set out his plans to overhaul the company – with a particular focus on the troublesome clothing business. At the time, he said the retailer intended to refocus on its key customer group – a core shopper he termed “Mrs M&S”.

The firm said total food sales were up four per cent, although like-for-like sales dropped 0.9 per cent “due to Easter timing”. M&S said it “We strongly outperformed the food market and continue to leverage our volume growth to reinvest in price”.

M&S left full year guidance unchanged, and said: “We continue to manage the business for the challenging market environment.”

Meanwhile, Rowe also noted that consumer confidence had dipped in the run up to the EU referendum, but added: “While it is too early to quantify the implications of Brexit, we are confident that our strategic priorities and the actions we are taking remain the right ones to deliver results for our customers and our business.”

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