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M&S sees Christmas sales fall, but cheers ‘steady’ trading

The retailer said like-for-like clothing and home sales dropped 2.4% over the 13 weeks to December 29 while food sales fell 2.1%.

MandS saw total clothing and home sales fall by more than four per cent (PA)
MandS saw total clothing and home sales fall by more than four per cent (PA)

Marks & Spencer has insisted it is seeing “encouraging early signs” despite further falls in clothing and food sales over its Christmas quarter.

The retail bellwether said like-for-like clothing and home sales dropped 2.4% over the 13 weeks to December 29 while comparable food sales fell 2.1%.

Total clothing and home sales fell by 4.8% as it was knocked by a raft of store closures under its overhaul.

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(PA Graphics)

The group said while unusually warm weather and falling consumer confidence made for a “very challenging” November, overall trading in its third quarter was “steady with some early encouraging signs”.

M&S also confirmed it remained on track for its full-year profit guidance.

Chief executive Steve Rowe said: “Against the backdrop of well-publicised difficult market conditions, our performance remained steady across the period.

“Our food business traded successfully over Christmas as customers responded to improved value.

“Our transformation programme remains on track.”

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MandS chief executive Steve Rowe said trading was ‘steady’ and has backed full-year profit guidance (MandS/PA)

The group said it did not take part in Black Friday discounts and held off from discounting ahead of Christmas, despite heavy promotional activity across the high street.

Mr Rowe said he did not regret the decision, which meant it went into the post-Christmas sales with around 25% less stock – its smallest sale for five years.

He added that the group saw a late sales surge, due to the extra weekend before Christmas.

As with other food retailers, the group suffered pressure on sales from falling inflation, with M&S prices falling around 2% in the quarter as it lowered prices to shift away from promotional discounts.

But Mr Rowe said he was encouraged by the “first steps” to turn around the fortunes in its food halls.

The figures come at a time of severe upheaval at the chain.

M&S recently drafted in former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King to join the board as a non-executive as the high street firm undergoes the next phase of a drastic transformation plan under Mr Rowe.

As part of the programme, spearheaded by Mr Rowe and chairman Archie Norman, M&S is seeking to save costs through store closures, shutting distribution centres, streamlining its corporate structure and ramping up digital operations.

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