Marks & Spencer’s lacklustre clothing and home performance was the result of poor availability and operational issues, chief executive Steve Rowe has said.
Speaking after the retailer announced a 5.5% decline in like-for-like clothing and home sales for the six months to 28 September 2019, Rowe said M&S could not blame difficult market conditions for the slump.
“Our performance is down to our execution. We said in May that we had too many markdowns and too many lines. We said we would make changes, as availability was poor.
“We took immediate action. We changed how we traded the Sale, so it was two weeks shorter with bigger discounts – that way we traded October full price. Our availability now is substantially ahead of last year.”
In July M&S ousted its clothing and home managing director Jill McDonald after the business failed to stock enough of its bestselling range of jeans, as worn by brand ambassador television presenter Holly Willoughby.
For autumn M&S has reduced its number of styles by 12% in womenswear and has bought deeper in key areas. As a result sales of women’s cashmere are up 14% on last autumn and denim sales are up 30%.
Consumer behaviour is very volatile. They are worried about national stability. They are behaving in a recessionary way
Rowe said the autumn 19 collections have been well received.
“We are 18 months behind schedule, but we are making up for lost time and moving at pace. My number one priority is to look under the bonnet of clothing and home, and we are seeing some of the benefits of those changes in the autumn season.
“The reaction to the [autumn] collection has been great. It is more stylish, more contemporary and a better fit. One swallow does not make a summer, however. It is clear there is much more to do and we won’t shy away from that.”
Profit before tax and adjusting items fell 17.1% year on year to £176.5m in the period. Total group revenue fell by 2.1% to £4.86bn.
In line with its transformation programme, M&S closed 17 full-line stores in the six months to September, and said it will trial a new clothing and home store before the end of the year.
In current trading the retailer said October full-price and planned promotional sales were up 2.7% year on year in clothing and home.
However, Rowe remained cautious in the run-up to the key peak trading period: “Consumer behaviour is very volatile. They are worried about national stability. They are behaving in a recessionary way. Our weekly bestsellers are black, grey, navy and camel – there is no colour. The customer is not buying into short-term merchandise.”