Belfast Telegraph

M&S shop closures in Northern Ireland not ruled out

By Jonny Bell and PA

Retailer Marks and Spencer has refused to rule out store closures in Northern Ireland after announcing it is to overhaul its business.

The struggling High Street giant announced it is to close around 60 clothing stores across the UK in a switch to focus on its food offering.

New Simply Food shops are to opened under the overhaul, with some replacing existing clothing stores.

Chief Executive Steve Rowe told the BBC: "This is about building a sustainable, more profitable business that's relevant for our customers in a digital shopping age.

He said that with new food stores opening, the company will have more stores overall and "more towns will have an M&S".

Mr Rowe would not comment on specific locations earmarked for closure and a spokeswoman for the chain told the Belfast Telegraph they would be across the UK and as part of a five-year plan. She would not disclose if Northern Ireland outlets would be affect.

It is thought, however, Northern Ireland stores will escape any cull of stores.

More: Northern Ireland stores not expected to be affected by M&S closures

Tuesday saw M&S reveal yet another fall in sales for the clothing division, this time of 5.9% in the first half of the year.

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

These are the latest woes for the former stalwart of the British 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 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.

Belfast Telegraph Digital