Marks & Spencer chief executive Steve Rowe has insisted that the retailer’s decision not to partake in Black Friday last year was the right one, despite reporting weak sales in November.
“We don’t regret Black Friday [which took place on 23 November 2018],” he said. “We’re very clear that we want to have a trusted value proposition and we traded well before that period.
“We didn’t see any loss in sales by not taking part and we maintained our value proposition so that customers aren’t just waiting for discount days.”
Rowe made the comments following M&S’s Christmas trading update this morning, which revealed that clothing and home revenue fell by 4.8% to £1.1bn in the 13 weeks to 29 December. The business said November was “very challenging”, as its rivals slashed prices.
The amount of clothing and home product put into the retailer’s end-of-year Sale was down 25% as the result of a planned reduction in stock levels.
Rowe said M&S worked on improving its online offer, partly to mitigate lower footfall due to planned store closures. As a result, online sales were up 14% during the period.
Online sales now account for 22% of the total, and are on track to reach a third.
Rowe said: “The priority was to increase site speed by more than a third, which we have achieved over the last year. We have made the photography more inspirational and have seen womenswear outperform in this quarter because that’s the first area we did this with.
“We’ve started curating in a slightly different way and are seeing higher rates of conversion.”
He added that the “must-haves” edit of clothing successfully highlighted key product items.
“It’s about making sure we have products which are contemporary,” said Rowe. “We are focused on the wardrobe essentials and making sure we’ve got our fit and style credentials right.
“We’re reducing our number of options and making our offer really clear in those categories.”
M&S announced in November that it was accelerating its store closure programme.
Today, Rowe confirmed that it plans to close 100 stores across the UK. “We’re about 40% of the way through and expect to complete the closures within a year and a half.”