M&S clothing sales tipped to fall again

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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Marks & Spencer is today expected to report an eighth consecutive quarterly fall in clothing sales, ratcheting up pressure on management to deliver a swift turnaround when new season ranges start hitting the shops later this month.

Britain’s biggest clothing retailer will publish first-quarter sales to coincide with its annual shareholder meeting that could see chief executive Marc Bolland under fire from investors angered by two years of falling profit.

The 129-year-old group, which serves 21 million customers a week from 766 British stores, is forecast to report a drop in sales of general merchandise – clothing, footwear and homewares – of 0.2 per cent to 3 per cent at shops open over a year in the 13 weeks to 29 June, according to a company poll of ten analysts.

The average forecast for a fall of 1.5 per cent compares with a 3.8 per cent decline in the fourth quarter of the group’s 2012-13 financial year.

Bolland, chief executive since 2010, is spending £2.3 billion over three years on store revamps, logistics, IT and systems, as well as selective investment overseas, as he seeks to make M&S an international, multi-channel retailer, connecting with customers through stores, the internet and mobile devices.

He is pinning his hopes on a new clothing strategy based on more stylish and higher-quality garments.

Autumn/winter ranges were unveiled in May by his new general merchandise team, receiving generally positive reviews from both analysts and the fashion press, and sending M&S shares, which have also been buoyed by periodic bouts of bid speculation, to a five-year high.

Sales data for the fiscal first quarter will be the last to fully reflect garments purchased by the previous buying team.

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