LONDON — Christmas wasn’t exactly jolly for Marks and Spencer plc, and the New Year isn’t looking much better. Sales at the British food-to-fashion retailer, which issued a third-quarter trading update on Wednesday, fell short of analysts’ projections in 13 weeks ended December 29. The store said that U.K. like-for-like sales of general merchandise fell 3.8 percent, and sank 1.8 percent overall. Earlier this week, Seymour Pierce said it was expecting general merchandise like-for-like sales to be down 2 percent. “The company has had disappointing women’s wear sales in Q3, not helped by an unconvincing range and a confused promotional strategy. The company had a friends and family promotion in the penultimate week before Christmas, and sporadic promotions throughout the period,” Seymour Pierce said in a research note. Group sales were up 0.6 percent, while multi-channel sales climbed 10.8 percent and international ones were up 4.1 percent. “Our General Merchandise performance is not yet satisfactory, but we are confident that the steps being taken by the new management team will address this,” said chief executive Marc Bolland in the statement. “Our plan is to transform Marks & Spencer from a traditional U.K. retailer to an international multi-channel retailer. We are making good progress against this plan.We are pleased with our multi-channel and international performance,” he added. Bolland said the coming year will be a challenging one: “We expect the pressure on consumers’ disposable incomes to continue in 2013. As a result we remain cautious about the outlook for the year ahead.” The one bright spot in the last quarter was food, where total U.K. sales climbed 2.7 percent in the period. Bolland said food notched “record” sales in the Christmas trading period of 330 million pounds, or $531.3 million at current exchange, over the two key trading weeks of the holiday period. Bolland said that India and China continued to trade well, but that international sales overall were impacted by currency translation as well as continued macro-economic weakness in the Republic of Ireland and Greece and the on-going restructuring of M&S’s Central European business.
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