M&S reports decline in its half-year revenue to under £5bn
Marks & Spencer, which has 21 stores here, warned of a bleak outlook for sales growth as it reported a decline in half-year revenue, but surprised the market with a higher profit figure.
Revenue dropped by 3.1% to £4.96bn, reflecting declining sales in both the food and clothing and home divisions.
M&S, which opened its latest local store at Marlborough Retail Park in Craigavon last month, said it does not expect much improvement in sales in the near future as it deals with "the growth of online competition and the march of the discounters".
"Therefore, as we embark on the difficult early stages of transformation, we are expecting little improvement in sales trajectory," the retailer said.
The company has already announced plans to close around 100 stores in the UK as well as exiting some international markets.
But it said "significant further change" is required.
Clothing and home revenue fell by 2.7% as a result of the strategy to close under-performing stores and reduce the amount of in-store space dedicated to non-food items.
Like-for-like sales declined by 1.1%.
Food revenue dipped by just 0.2% overall, but like-for-like sales slipped by 2.9% due to the use of fewer promotions and the timing of Easter.
Underlying pre-tax profits rose 2% to £223.5m, compared with £219.1m a year earlier.
Consensus forecasts had pointed to a decline in profits to £203m.
M&S said the improved profit was due to the phasing of costs, but full-year cost guidance remains the same.
Chief executive Steve Rowe said the retailer was "leaving no stone unturned" in its radical transformation plan.
"We are on track to restructure our store portfolio with over 100 full-line closures and expect to see newly remodelled stores open next year," he said.
"We are fixing the basics of our online channel and there are very early signs of improvement showing.
"Every aspect of our ranges, how we trade, our supply chain and marketing is undergoing scrutiny and change."
Capital expenditure is now expected to be between £300m and £350m before disposals - lower than a previous estimate of up to £400m.
Tom Stevenson, investment director at Fidelity Personal Investing's share dealing service, said the results were like a "cold shower".
"The company is ruthlessly honest about the massive challenge it faces," he said.
"It is reinventing itself on no less than nine different fronts, acknowledging it has a mountain to climb in both clothing and food, that its management has been weak, its website clunky and its stores old-fashioned."
M&S this week announced that it's taking on 300 seasonal staff across its stores in Northern Ireland as it gets ready for the Christmas rush.
Simon Layton, M&S head of region for Northern Ireland, said it wanted to offer Christmas customers "the very best experience".
"Every year we value the additional colleagues we recruit and it's great a number stay with us.
"For those interested in applying, retail experience is helpful, but what we're really after are colleagues who are ready to be part of a hard-working team and help make every moment special for our customers."