Belfast Telegraph

Marks & Spencer suffers festive fall in clothing and food departments

By Holly Williams

Retail giant Marks & Spencer, which has around 20 stores in Northern Ireland, has revealed "mixed" festive trading after another steep fall in sales in its embattled clothing arm and disappointing trading in its food halls.

The high street bellwether blamed a tough October for a 2.8% fall in like-for-like clothing and home sales over the 13 weeks to December 30, while it said "ongoing under-performance" in its food arm saw sales fall 0.4%.

But the declines were not as bad as some feared, following recent profit warnings from the likes of Debenhams, Moss Bros and Mothercare.

The company recently opened a Simply Food outlet at a petrol station at Belfast International Airport, and plans to open another food hall at Craigavon's Marlborough Retail Park.

M&S said a pick up in trading over the key Christmas weeks helped make up for a weak clothing market and more difficult trading in its food business, with consumer spending under pressure amid a squeeze on budgets from inflation. Steve Rowe, chief executive, said: "M&S had a mixed quarter, with better Christmas trading in both businesses going some way to offset a weak clothing market in October and ongoing under-performance in our food like-for-like sales."

He said the group remained on track to meet full-year profit expectations. Shares fell more than 2% after its update. M&S said it held off from slashing prices despite intense competition on the high street and saw sales grow both in-store and online in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

It also shunned the Black Friday discount frenzy in November, but it said the unusually warm October left overall sales lower.

Overall, its third quarter like-for-like sales were 1.4% lower.

Online sales at M&S.com lifted 3%, while its ongoing move to pull out of international markets saw overseas sales slump 9.8%.

The festive sales fall comes after it gave hope last November that its turnaround was gaining traction in the embattled clothing and home division, when second-quarter sales dipped by just 0.1%.

Belfast Telegraph

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