“Substantially higher” levels of discounting on the high street and poor availability in menswear dampened Marks & Spencer’s Christmas performance, chief executive Steve Rowe has said.
UK clothing and home sales at M&S dipped by 3.7% year on year to £1bn in the 13 weeks to 28 December. Sales for clothing and home were down 1.7% on a like-for-like basis.
“[Across the market], the levels of discounting were substantially higher, and the amount of product on Sale was substantially larger, in both stores and online before Black Friday and it carried on until Christmas,” said Rowe. “That level of discounting had an impact on the market. We held our nerve and didn’t start our Sale early. The level of stock that went into sale was 12% down on last year, and we came out of the season tidy in terms of stock. I’m a believer of first price, right price. If you have long-term discounting, shoppers don’t trust your value. We can give our shoppers the odd deal, but the wholesale blanket discounting we saw in December across the high street is not something I want to play into.”
Rowe said womenswear performed well in October and November, with like-for-like growth, but sales were impacted by competitors’ discounting in December.
During the period womenswear denim sales were up 31% compared with last year, while sales of jumpers were up 6% and cashmere up 1%.
In menswear, knitwear was up 7% and cashmere was up 6% versus 2018. However, the menswear category was hit by poor availability in trousers. The retailer introduced new contemporary skinny and slim fits, but ordered too many of these styles and too many small sizes.
“We got the balance of the ratio wrong, we also had too many small sizes and not enough medium and large. That will be rebalanced for spring,” said Rowe.
He added that the tough market showed no sign of abating yet: “I wouldn’t say there has been a bounce in consumer sentiment. In the run-up to the election shoppers were subdued and concerned. M&S is a self-help story, but the market is tough and customers were displaying recessionary behaviour in the run up to Christmas. We were pleased with the progress we have made but there is more to do.”