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Marc Bolland: M&S clothing hit by unplanned promotions

Marks & Spencer’s general merchandising results were hit by a “challenging” March, which pushed the division’s fourth quarter results down overall.

This morning the retailer reported a 3.8% drop in UK like-for-likes under general merchandise, which includes fashion and footwear as well as smaller categories such as home and beauty.

Only food grew over the 13 weeks to March 30, resulting in like-for-like growth across the business of 0.6%. Total sales, including international and multichannel, were up 3.1%.

Chief executive Marc Bolland told Drapers that clothing had performed “very well” in the first two months of the quarter, but had been hit during “the challenging environment” of March.

Although he avoided blaming the weather for the division’s underperformance, he noted that lightweight products were down, with sales of linen dropping 51% and casual tops falling 23%.

During this period, the business was forced to make unplanned “tactical” promotions in response to the wider high street activity.

“We didn’t lead the market but we followed very closely,” Bolland said.

The design team had made some last minute adjustments to the spring 13 collection, cancelling some orders and placing new ones, resulting in a 4-5% change in the overall output.

Bolland said this had enabled M&S to “improve on more key trend items”.

“When we bought things that were on trend, they sold very well,” he said. “Monochrome was pretty much a trend you saw in lots of high streets and we bought 1m items in that trend – we have been taking a standpoint, having a view on fashion with that. The fact we sold through and came clean out shows that decision paid off.”

Florals and print had also performed well he noted, with sleepwear and knitwear delivering during the tougher environment.

He added: “I’m not going to say we’re there – we are working hard on GM, we know we can improve and the whole team is working on it, not just for autumn 13 but also for spring 14.”

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