M&S faces pressure after clothing sales fall

M&S sees a flat market for clothing
M&S sees a flat market for clothing

​Retail giant Marks & Spencer is facing​​ pressure to shore up its clothing business after a "flat market" hit quarterly sales.

The high street bellwether said clothing and home like-for-like sales tumbled 2.7​ per cent​ in the 13 weeks to March 26, as price deflation created a "challenging backdrop" for trade.

But the sales came in ahead of city expectations of a 3.4​ per cent​ fall and improved on its performance in the third quarter.

It comes days after new chief executive Steve Rowe said he would remain in charge of the clothing and home division because he was "personally committed" to getting it right.

The retailer said food business continued to outperform a highly competitive market as like-for-like sales remained flat 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​ per cent​. Although the sales decline in clothing and home was lower than 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 retailer said it had bolstered the number of products in its spring and summer clothing range compared with last year, with sales in its Autograph range climbing 10​ per cent​.

It also reduced the amount of clothes on promotional discount, a move it would continue to follow throughout the year.

But while it invested in lowering prices, M&S said it was still faced with the same challenge as the third quarter when it had to move more stock into sale.

The retailer said it also benefited from an earlier Easter, handing a 0.4​ per cent​ boost to clothing and home sales and a 1​ per cent​ rise in food.