Clothing and homeware sales at Marks & Spencer fell for the 12th quarter in a row in the three months to the end of June. Like-for-like general merchandise sales were down by 1.5%
The retailer’s relaunched website was partly to blame – online sales slumped by 8.1%. Chief executive Marc Bolland suggested this was a “settling in” period, and said the site should be fine in time for Christmas.
What the commentators said
M&S’s latest figures are “uncannily reminiscent” of a performance by the England football team, said Alistair Osborne in The Times. “Lots of effort, but more evidence of a team getting outplayed by the likes of Next.”
The latest slide represents a poor return on Bolland’s £2bn of spending on the business. The online business was always going to be “challenging”, as it involved shifting customers from an Amazon-run platform to a home-grown one.
Teething troubles included customers having to re-register their personal details, for example. But even allowing for such inevitable hiccups, an 8.1% sales dive is a disappointment.
The “dotcom fiasco leaves a bitter taste for investors”, agreed Shore Capital’s Clive Black. It’s also “curious” that the person who oversaw it, Laura Wade-Gery, is now being promoted from online boss to head of overall UK retail.
Nonetheless, the trading statement was hardly a complete disaster, said The Daily Telegraph. Food sales rose again last quarter and sales of womenswear – both key categories for M&S – ticked up. “The foundations could finally be in place for clothing sales to grow.”
Don’t hold your breath, said James Moore in The Independent. Remember that trading was “dire” last year, which in turn followed a dismal 2012. And the positive performance in clothing came only when new stores were included. On an underlying basis, clothing sales declined by 0.1%.
Bolland, however, “is ever the optimist”, said Kamal Ahmed on the BBC. He says M&S is on a “journey” and he is enjoying himself.
Yet his three-year plan to revive the business, set out in 2011, failed to work, and now he continues to sound “like a homeowner with the builders in”, insisting the place will be lovely once it’s finished. The M&S revamp is starting to look “never-ending”.