Business

M&S to shut 60 stores as clothing wing struggles

Marks & Spencer is to close around 60 clothing and home stores as it focuses on food

HIGH street favourite Marks & Spencer is to cut back its beleaguered clothing offer after years of efforts to turn around falling sales.

Its announcement that it is closing around 60 clothing stores comes as it reveals yet another fall in sales for the division, this time of 5.9 per cent in the first half.

It narrowed the sales decline from 8.9 per cent in the first quarter - its worst performance for a decade - to 2.9 per cent in the second quarter.

It is not yet known where the retailer intends to close stores.

These are the latest woes for the former stalwart of the UK high street that has seen its position shift from a retailer able to attract all age groups to a place seen by younger consumers as catering primarily for older generations - despite glamorous advertising campaigns and, most recently, two well-received collections from model Alexa Chung based on the store's fashion archive.

Commentators say younger shoppers are being lured away by competitors which are cheaper, faster and more aspirational.

Meanwhile the so-called fast fashion retailers like Primark and H&M have improved their quality and a new category of "grown-up" stores such as Reiss and Cos and have emerged.

Customers have also complained that they are confused amid racks of clothing divided into various brands but with little indication as to what separates one from another, and that items singled out by fashion experts - and there are many such pieces in every collection - are difficult to find within cluttered stores, if they have not already sold out.

Other grumbles have also referred to too few shop assistants on hand to help navigate the racks and offer guidance on styling.

Earlier this year, new chief executive Steve Rowe announced that the "neglected" Mrs M&S was at the centre of plans to turn around his store's fortunes, saying he planned to "celebrate and cherish" the "loyal" army of women shoppers aged 50 and over - who have proved to be not quite so loyal after all.

M&S knows its average customer is female, in her 50s, and shops with the group 18 times a year.

To cater more successfully to her, Mr Rowe talked about cutting back on fashion-focused clothing in favour of plans to "re-establish our style authority", with an emphasis on stylish wardrobe essentials to win back customers.

He also talked about providing pieces that can be worn with confidence as well as a focus on stylish everyday items and "unrivalled quality".

He pledged to reduce promotions and clearance sales and invest in lower everyday prices - a trend that is taking hold more widely across the retail industry in response to consumer demand.

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