M&S culls clothing business as major overhaul curtails global ambition

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Boss says revamp affects 25% of UK floorspace with more emphasis on food, and closure of 30 British and 53 overseas shops. Marks & Spencer is shutting 30 UK stores as part of a major overhaul that will slash the amount of selling space devoted to its ailing clothing ranges.

New boss Steve Rowe told the City that more than 100 UK stores – a quarter of its UK floorspace – would be affected by the shake-up with clothing departments to be shut entirely in 60 stores.

Another 45 stores will either be turned into branches of its more successful Simply Food chain, downsized or relocated. The three year plan, which aims to boost sales as more Britons buy clothing online, is expected to cost £150m.

At the same time Rowe signalled that M&S was giving up on its ambition to become a global retailer, a push led by his predecessor Marc Bolland. It is closing 53 overseas stores including its high-profile French flagship store on the Champs Élysées in Paris. It will be the second time the retailer has retreated from the continent.

“We have now completed a forensic review of our estate both in the UK and in our international markets,” said Rowe. “Over the next five years we will transform our UK estate with circa 60 fewer clothing and home stores, whilst continuing to increase the number of our Simply Food stores.”

Rowe, the M&S veteran who succeeded Marc Bolland in April, has promised to stop the rot in its clothing business which has entered a fifth year of falling sales. He has already promised to lower its clothing prices and pay more attention to its most loyal group of shoppers, dubbed “Mrs M&S”. The troubles at M&S have enabled low-cost rivals such as H&M, Zara and Primark to thrive on the high street.

Rowe said the retailer had received a positive response to changes he had made to its clothing business. “The initial feedback we’ve had from customers has been good,” he said. “We’ve improved the fit on many garments and for the first time in a number of years we’ve grown full-price market share.”

Rowe would not put a figure on how many UK jobs would be affected by the store changes but where possible staff would transfer to its fast-growing Simply Food chain where a further 200 stores are planned.

In the spring Rowe initiated a review of its stable of fashion brands which include Autograph and Per Una amid confusion over who the brands were aimed at. The retailer then said it would be axing the Indigo, Collezione and North Coast labels.

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