M&S fashion back on track

Marks & Spencer registered a surprise improvement in sales at its clothing division - the first rise in more than three years of trading.
Marks & Spencer registered a surprise improvement in sales at its clothing division - the first rise in more than three years of trading.
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Marks & Spencer has reported its best clothing sales in nearly four years as customers rushed to buy its latest fashion ranges.

The high street giant saw a 0.7 per cent rise in like-for-like sales at its general merchandise arm as customers responded to changes in product quality and styling as it sold more full-price items.

The chain has been boosted by strong sales of a 1970s style suede skirt, which met with the approval of the fashion press.

The outcome was the first time in 15 quarters M&S has not posted a fall in non-food like-for-like sales.

It was also better than analysts’ average forecast of minus 1.2 per cent and followed a third-quarter decline of 5.8 per cent, which reflected unseasonal weather in October and November and disruption at its e-commerce distribution centre in December.

The company’s food business also reported a 0.7 per cent increase in like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to March 28, helped by record Valentine’s Day sales.

Marc Bolland, CEO since 2010, has spent billions of pounds addressing decades of under-investment at M&S, overseeing a redesign of products, stores, logistics and its website. But a new clothing team he set up in 2012 has previously failed to deliver a sustained increase in sales.

However, a food business outperforming the wider grocery market and improving profit margins both in non-food and food have kept investors onside, with the group’s share price rising by a third over the last six months and recently hitting a seven-year high.

“We have made strong progress over the quarter,” said Mr Bolland.

M&S.com sales returned to growth with sales up 13.8 per cent.