Marks & Spencer Sales Slide

Chairman cites declining consumer confidence and the economic environment.

LONDON — Sales at Marks & Spencer Group Plc inched up just 1.3 percent in the first quarter of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The company released the trading update a week early, after Stuart Rose, chairman of M&S, said sales had seen a further slowdown over the past three weeks.

“We’ve seen pretty volatile market conditions,” said Rose during a conference call Wednesday.

M&S’s U.K. sales in the 13 weeks to June 28 declined 0.5 percent during the period. Clothing sales fell by 3.6 percent and home sales by 5.1 percent.

Meanwhile on a like for like basis, U.K. sales declined 5.3 percent, while general merchandise sales, which include clothing, dropped 6.2 percent. While food sales grew 1.6 percent during the period, on a like for like basis they fell 4.5 percent.

Rose attributed the slowdown to declining consumer confidence levels and a challenging economic environment.

“The customer is definitely feeling the pinch…we have been seeing changes in behavior,” he said.

“At our preliminary results in May, we reported a mixed start to our 2008-09 financial year and expressed caution about consumer sentiment,” Rose added. “Since then, consumer confidence levels have deteriorated markedly and market conditions have become more challenging.”

In contrast, in the final quarter of the 2007-08 fiscal year, U.K. sales rose 3.7 percent and general merchandise sales rose 0.1 percent. On a like-for-like basis, sales declined 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter.

For complete coverage, see Thursday’s WWD.