M&S chief says group ‘well set up’ for a happier Christmas

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MARKS & SPENCER is hopeful of a good Christmas following signs of improvement at the retail giant.

The group was hit by a seven per cent slump in fashion sales during April, May and June, casting fears that the retailer was heading for more bad news.

But yesterday it said fashion sales fell by just 1.8 per cent in July, August and September, a better-than-expected performance which boosted the group’s shares.

Analyst Sam Hart at Charles Stanley said: “M&S is likely to be amongst the more resilient retailers, given the older demographics of customers and their bias towards more prosperous socio-economic groups.”

Sales from M&S’s British stores open more than a year were flat in the second quarter to September 29, with the 1.8 per cent fall in general merchandise sales – spanning clothing, footwear and homewares – offset by a 1.6 per cent rise in food.

The group’s chief executive, Marc Bolland, the former boss at Bradford-based Morrisons, blamed wet summer weather and stock management issues for the group’s previous dire performance. “We took steps to address the short-term issues in general merchandise and as a result, we delivered an improved performance,” said Mr Bolland.

He said recent trading has been volatile, although the group is “well set up” for the Christmas trading period.

M&S said it is taking bolder moves to back key fashion trends, such as military coats, which sold well in the first half.

It has also overhauled its general merchandise team and hired new managers, including former Debenhams and Jaeger boss Belinda Earl to revitalise womenswear in the newly-created role of style director.