Marks & Spencer’s new chief executive Steve Rowe said he will “sharpen prices” and reduce the number of promotions at the retailer to turnaround its struggling clothing category.
Like-for-like general merchandise sales fell by 2.7% for the 13 weeks to March 26, better than analysts’ expectations of a 3% to 3.4% decline. But speaking to journalists after the results were released, Rowe, who took the reins from Marc Bolland on April 2, said the sales drop was still “disappointing”.
“We’ve a lot more to do on clothing,” he admitted. “We can see some improvements coming through, like better availability, but we are most definitely not there yet. This is not good enough yet.”
For spring 16, Rowe, who took over responsibility for clothing from John Dixon last July, launched a programme to lower average prices and pull back from heavy discounting.
Prices were reduced by between 10% and 15% on more than 300 lines of menswear and womenswear during the quarter. Examples included women’s black jeggings, previously £19.50 and now £17.50. Men’s white T-shirts dropped from £7.50 to £6.
The average price for items in its “True Blue” womenswear range, one of its core trends for spring 16, were brought down from £40 to £35.
“Prices have been sharpened,” affirmed Rowe. “We’re pleased so far but there is more to do. We are looking at every aspect of the business in a robust way - we are not leaving a stone unturned.”
Rowe said the amount of discounting on womenswear online and in stores during the quarter had been reduced by 40% year on year, and this had had a “small impact” on clothing sales.
He added that that the retailer is “working hard to improve” its clothing ranges and has already invested in fit for its spring collections, leading to a 7% reduction in returns of women’s trousers and dresses bought online.
“We are working on ranges, pricing and availability and this spring some of this has come to fruition, but there is a lot to do and it takes time to come through,” Rowe added.
Earlier this week it was announced that Rowe would continue to lead the clothing side of the business, and today he said that was always his intention.
“I always had it in my mind to keep general merchandise since I took it over last year. It’s my number one priority. We’ve started making changes and we’ve started to improve the ranges but we have much more to do. It has been my focus and will be for the foreseeable future.”