M&S: still has the builders in

The revamp of the high-street retailer appears to be never-ending.

Clothing and homeware sales atMarks & 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

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.

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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 statementwas hardly a complete disaster, saidThe 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 continuesto sound "like a homeowner withthe builders in", insisting the placewill be lovely once it's finished.The M&S revamp is starting to look "never-ending".

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.