Marks and Spencer

LONDON — Marks & Spencer is going ahead with its store closure plans, putting up to 1,000 jobs at risk as it looks to transform its struggling U.K. business.

Last year, the British high-street retailer announced plans to close a total of 100 stores across the U.K. by 2022, in order to put more focus on online sales.

This year’s closures, revealed today, will include 17 branches in suburban British towns and cities such as Hull, Ashford, Bedford, Newark and Northwick, affecting up to 1,000 jobs.

“Proposing to close stores is never easy, for our colleagues, customers or the local community, but it is vital for the future of M&S,” said Sacha Berendji, the retailer’s operations and property director.

“Where we have closed stores, we are continuing to see an encouraging number of customers choosing other nearby locations and shopping on”

The company added that its intention is to retain as many doors as possible and will be holding consultation processes for all staff whose jobs have been affected.

Gary Carter, the national officer of U.K. general trade union GMB, said job security will continue to dwindle across the U.K. high street, fueled further by the imminent merger of supermarket giants Asda and Sainsbury’s.

“Employees across the sector will be very worried about their job security and wondering which retailer will be next to shed jobs or close down. This government has done nothing to help retailers and the low-paid, hard-working employees who are at the sharp end,” Carter added.

Marks & Spencer’s latest round of store closures comes shortly after the company reported a decline in third-quarter revenues, spurred by lower footfalls and widespread discounting during Black Friday.

The company’s revenues dropped 2.7 percent to 2.78 billion pounds, with sales in the clothing and home division falling 4.8 percent to 1.1 billion pounds.

“Widespread discounting by our competitors made November a very challenging trading period,” said Steve Rowe, the company’s chief executive.

“Our objective is to reshape our buy, deliver market-leading value and focus on stylish and wearable wardrobe ‘must-haves’ as we grow our business with family-aged customers seeking style, quality and value.”

By revising its store portfolio, the retailer aims to shift a third of its sales online and establish a smaller network of central, brick-and-mortar locations that offer a more elevated, customer experience with new features such as in-store digital features and click-and-collect services.

Last June, it has also forged a partnership with Microsoft to help reshape its strategy by integrating technologies such as AI across the company, to optimize operations and improve customer experience, both in-store and online.