M&S sees another Clothing & Home dip but e-sales rise in double-digits
Some of the UK’s biggest retailers released their Christmas trading updates on Thursday and with M&S among them, it was definitely going to be a day in which the health of the UK retail sector was heavily in the spotlight.
The M&S Report for the 13 weeks to December 29 was headlined ‘Steady performance in difficult markets and transformation plan on track’, which certainly wasn't suggestive of a triumphant Christmas season.
The company said that its UK sales fell 2.2% on a like-for-like basis and 2.7% in total to £2.78 billion. Its food sales fell 1.2% in total but, more importantly for the fashion industry, the Clothing & Home division was down a much worse 4.8%, or 2.4% on a like-for-like basis. The unit’s sales dropped to £1.1 billion.
And international sales fell as well, although the large size of the drop (15.1%) was mainly due to the sale of its Hong Kong business to its franchise partner and the closure of stores in loss-making markets. Factoring those out, international revenue was down only 1.4%.
The company said that the Clothing & Home revenue decline reflected “lower footfall to stores, partly as a result of [the] increasing pace of closures.” It was offset to some extent by online growth of 14% “driven by improvements to proposition and operations.” And it said stock that went into its clearance sale was down around 25%, as a result of a planned reduction in stock levels.
CEO Steve Rowe said of all this: "Against the backdrop of well publicised difficult market conditions, our performance remained steady across the period.”
But despite his relatively upbeat stance, he added that “reducing consumer confidence, mild weather, Black Friday, and widespread discounting by our competitors made November a very challenging trading period. However, overall our 13-week performance was steady with some early encouraging signs.”
The Clothing & Home performance may not look very encouraging on the surface, but Rowe said the company is still “at the early stages of far-reaching changes in range, in style, customer focus and channel mix. Our objective is to reshape our buy, deliver market leading value and focus on stylish and wearable wardrobe ‘Must-Haves’ as we grow our business with family-aged customers seeking style, quality and value.”
At least there was that good news about online sales, which was especially encouraging given that M&S has a chequered history with its webstore that hasn't always delivered the results it was hoping for.
This time, however, it seems that “improvements to [its] online proposition and operations helped [it] to mitigate lower footfall to stores resulting from, in part, the increasing pace of change in the store estate.”
As the 14% rise shows, its Clothing & Home online sales performance was “strong, supported by an increased focus on digital marketing together with improvements to [the] delivery proposition and [its] operations at Castle Donington.”
And it was particularly pleasing that “womenswear online growth significantly outperformed, driven by areas including dresses and knitwear reflecting [its] ‘Must-Haves’ and social media campaigns.”
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