M&S SEES FIRST SIGNS OF UPSWING

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Marks & Spencer plc Tuesday indicated its performance may be turning around at last.
The struggling U.K. retailer said sales in the 12 weeks to Sept. 29 rose 2.8 percent versus the comparable 2000 period, with same-store sales up 2.1 percent. In the 26-week period to Sept. 29, sales were down 0.2 percent overall and 1 percent on a same-store basis.
While not a brilliant performance, the 12-week figure represents the first positive sales growth Marks & Spencer has registered in more than a year. However, the comparisons come against a weak performance in the corresponding period of last year, when Britain was plagued by a wave of gasoline strikes and consumer spending plummeted.
The good news for Marks & Spencer was that sales in its core clothing, gifts and footwear operations rose 0.8 percent in the 12-week period, although they were down 4.8 percent over the 26 weeks. The retailer said its women’s wear sales are at last responding to initiatives taken over the last 18 months to improve product design and marketing. Marks & Spencer this fall launched its “Perfect” ad campaign to focus on classically styled clothing for its core customers.
Its younger, more fashion-forward Per Una line, designed by George Davies, was launched in 33 stores on Sept. 28, so only two days’ of sales are included in the results, M&S said. It added that initial customer response has been “very positive.”
“We have been encouraged by the response of our customers to the improvements we have made to the appeal, quality and fit of our clothing,” Luc Vandevelde, Marks & Spencer’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.
He added that Marks & Spencer remains confident consumers will respond favorably to the changes it is making in its clothing and other products.

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