Business

Christmas cheer for Marks & Spencer's clothing arm

Marks & Spencer boss Steve Rowe said it was a "great Christmas" for the group. Photo by Jonathan Brady, PA Wire
Holly Williams

RETAILER Marks & Spencer has revealed a return to sales growth in its embattled clothing arm for the first time in nearly two years, thanks to an overhaul of its ranges and the timing of Christmas.

The company said like-for-like sales in its clothing and home division rose 2.3 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 31 - the first growth since the January to March quarter in 2015.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said "better ranges, better availability and better prices" helped sales recover, but the hike also came after a dismal performance a year earlier and it was boosted by an extra five trading days over the festive season.

M&S also posted a 0.6 per cent rise in like-for-like sales across its food halls over the festive quarter.

But the group said around 1.5 per cent of the total clothing and home sales uplift came from the extra trading days, which also boosted food sales by around 0.3 per cent.

It cautioned over a knock-on hit to fourth quarter figures due to the timing of sales as well as a later Easter this year.

Mr Rowe said the group's clothing turnaround came as it battled against a "difficult marketplace".

The group has been revamping its clothing offer, cutting everyday prices for nearly a third of its ranges, and increasing staff numbers on the shop floor.

"I am pleased with the customer response we have seen to the changes we are making in line with our plan for the business," he said.

He added the group would plough on with its restructuring plans "against the background of uncertain consumer confidence".

M&S announced plans in November to close around 30 UK stores and convert 45 more into food-only shops, while also announcing a retreat from a raft of international markets.

Shares in the group surged more than 4 per cent as Mr Rowe cheered a "great Christmas" for the group. But he stressed there was more work to do in turning its clothing sales around and suggested this quarter may not mark a return to sustained sales growth yet.

"We intend to grow the business. It will take time for the consumer to notice that," he said.

"Some of the actions we take in the short term will result in negative periods."

The chain's figures shrug off gloomy warnings from rival Next, which last week sounded the alarm over profits following dismal Christmas trading and said 2017 would be "even tougher" amid an ongoing shift in spending away from fashion.

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