M&S' fashion SOS as clothing sales fall 1.6%

Results posted by Marks & Spencer show clothing sales are still flagging. Hopes are pinned on its autumn/winter collection.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 17 Sep 2013
Can Belinda Earl rescue M&S’ clothing division? The former Debenhams and Jaeger boss was parachuted in by the retailer last year in to launch a new fashion range that would attract a higher class (/larger wallet) of customers.

The range was unveiled in May, to gushing reviews from fashion editors – but won’t be in shops until the later this month (perversely, given the weather, when autumn/winter collections begin to creep into stores). That may be too long a wait for the brand, which today posted results showing year-on-year sales of general merchandise (including clothing) fell by 1.6% in the three months to the end of June – its eighth successive quarterly fall.

And although fashion mags were impressed, whether the autumn/winter collection – which includes a clinging silver sequined gown, a feathered bolero and a mini kilt – will impress M&S hardcore customer base is another question.

Elsewhere, though, things were better: group sales rose by 3.3%, while like-for-like UK food sales rose by 1.8% and online sales rose by almost 30%.

Chief executive Marc Bolland (whose job is riding on the collection’s success) rather wisely took a cautious approach at the company’s AGM: ‘We do not want to disguise that we are not happy [about our clothing line],’ he said – but he pointed out that the food business’ performance had been ‘stellar’, and reminded investors that M&S hadn’t been caught out in the horsemeat scandal.

He also flagged up the company’s online performance, saying its new website ‘is not only selling but inspiring you in how to buy online’, adding that its new distribution centre is three times the size of Wembley stadium. Wowza.

Shareholders’ real enthusiasm, though, was reserved for comments by chairman Robert Swannell, who announced that ‘80% more dresses will have sleeves’, to a cheer. M&S: getting to the heart of the real issue. As Telegraph correspondent Harry Wallop dubbed it on Twitter: ‘#banishbingowings’.

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