Pressure grows on Bolland over Marks & Spencer sales

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MArks & SPENCER reported a small rise in sales of its flagship womenswear, saying it was a 
sign years of investment were starting to pay off despite a 12th consecutive quarterly drop in overall general merchandise sales.

The country’s biggest clothing retailer, which also sells upmarket food, said first-quarter sales were held back by its transition to a new website, as previously flagged, and kept its full-year profit guidance.

It said sales of womenswear at stores open over a year were “slightly higher,” without providing a figure. But some analysts said chief executive Marc Bolland still had much to prove.

“It will still take a considerable amount of time for M&S to demonstrate that it can break the mould, grow its non-food offer, maintain market share and build earnings,” said Shore Capital’s Clive Black, who has a “hold” stance on M&S stock.

Mr Bolland, CEO since 2010, has spent £2.3bn over the past three years in a push to address decades of underinvestment, overseeing the redesign of products and stores and an overhaul of logistics to serve the new website.

However, a new clothing team he set up in 2012 has failed to deliver a sustained increase in sales and, for the first time, M&S earned less in the year to the end of March than its faster-growing rival Next.

The new website, launched in February, is a pillar of the intended transformation of the 130-year-old business into an international retailer reaching customers through stores, the internet, tablets and mobile devices.

The CEO announced a shuffling of executive responsibilities last week, putting online boss Laura Wade-Gery in charge of UK retail - a move which sparked speculation the firm was planning for an eventual successor to Mr Bolland.

M&S said like-for-like sales of non-food products, spanning clothing, footwear and homewares, fell 1.5 per cent in the 13 weeks to June 28.

The firm said M& sales fell 8.1 per cent, though there had recently been a gradual improvement in performance.

It said it expected the site to return to growth ahead of Christmas.

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