Marks & Spencer share price falls 1.5%: will it ever save its clothing business?

Long-awaited figures show clothing sales fell 0.6% in the 13 weeks to the end of June - the 12th consecutive quarter they've fallen.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 07 Jul 2015

Oh, Marks and Sparks. What’s become of you? The once-proud fashion (sort of) retailer continues its decline, today posting its 12th straight quarterly fall in clothing sales. It’s sad news for chief exec Marc Bolland, who has spent the past couple of years trying everything he could think of to rejuvenate the ailing brand.

Compared with the same period last year, clothing sales fell 0.6% in the 13 weeks to the end of June (although they actually rose 0.1% on last quarter), while underlying general merchandise sales, which include clothing as well as homeware etc, fell 1.5% on last year. Even food sales didn’t meet expectations, rising 1.7%, against analysts’ expectations of 2%.

Does this have something to do with M&S’ new website? Online sales fell a staggering 8.1% in the period, which is pretty impressive work, even by M&S standards.

The company has previously blamed website troubles on a ‘settling in’ period (it spent £150m swapping platforms from Amazon to its own) – although that’s now been going on since February. It may be that its website is just, you know, not very good. Although earlier this month it combined its website and stores into one department, so things might change.

Every time sales fall at M&S, customers weigh in with their complaints: last time we wrote about this, one man said he’d had to return a pair of slacks five times, and a lady pointed out that with M&S’ many lines – Per Una, Autograph, etc etc – the task of finding a pair of nice trousers takes hours of trawling. On Twitter today, the complaints have been coming in thick and fast: it turns out buttons popping off trousers is an issue, while plunging necklines are the new ‘no sleeves’.

Bolland has tried every trick in the book to save M&S’ clothing business, but things aren’t going well. Not even ex-Jaeger chief executive Belinda Earl has had a tangible impact on the clothing business (although today M&S said womenswear specifically was ‘in growth’, albeit actually telling us how much by). Unfortunately for Bolland, General Merchandise still forms a huge part of the retailer’s business.

The question now is what will last longer: Bolland or M&S’ clothing business? Despite its problems, shareholders seem pretty attached to the clothing…

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