Belfast Telegraph

New M&S chief pledges to revive clothing arm after more poor results

By Ben Woods

Marks & Spencer's new chief executive has pledged to restore the fortunes of the firm's beleaguered clothing business after reporting another slide in sales.

Steve Rowe branded the performance as "unsatisfactory" after like-for-like sales in the clothing and home arm tumbled 2.7% in the 13 weeks to March 26.

The high street bellwether, which has 18 stores in Northern Ireland, said its clothing division had come under pressure in the fourth quarter after a flat market and price deflation created a "challenging backdrop". But shares in the company soared more than 3.5% as it beat City expectations of a 3.4% fall and improved on the third quarter when sales slumped 5.8%.

Mr Rowe, who took over from Marc Bolland on Saturday, said reviving the retailer's clothing and homes business was his "number one priority".

It comes after he announced earlier this week that he would remain in charge of the clothing business because he was "personally committed" to getting it right.

Meanwhile, the retailer could take some cheer from the strength of its food business, as it beat the market to post flat like-for-like sales over the period.

Mr Rowe said: "We had a mixed performance in the final quarter of the year. Our food business once again outperformed the market by 3.5%.

"Although the sales decline in clothing and home was lower than the last quarter, our performance remains unsatisfactory and there is still more we need to do.

"Turning around our clothing and home business by improving our customer offer is our number one priority. I will update you on my thoughts on the business in May."

The retail giant's latest move to revive women's clothing sales came in February when it sealed a tie-up with TV presenter Alexa Chung to launch a fashion collection inspired by the company's extensive range.

Since then, Next chief executive Lord Wolfson has warned that high-street retailers face a bumpy road ahead.

He said 2016 would be the toughest year the sector has faced since 2008, as it braces itself for a slowdown in consumer spending.

M&S said it had bolstered the number of products in its spring and summer clothing range compared with last year.

Sales in its Autograph range climbed 10%.

Belfast Telegraph