Financial News

  • 8 July 2014, 6:02

M&S To Dress Up Sales Numbers Amid Web Woes

Marks & Spencer (M&S) will signal renewed confidence in a turnaround of its key womenswear business on Tuesday, even as overall sales remain depressed amid problems with its revamped website.

Sky News understands that Frances Russell, the retailer's director for womenswear, informed colleagues last week that the chain had hit sales targets for the three months to the end of June.

Margins are also understood to have improved during the quarter, with fewer promotions against the same period last year, sources said.

An email circulated to M&S managers by Ms Russell did not contain precise sales data, which would have been deemed price-sensitive information, according to one rival who was briefed on its content.

However, her reference to the division - the most closely-watched at M&S by analysts and shareholders - having met targets will offer a glimmer of hope to Marc Bolland, M&S's chief executive.

His ambition of turning the company into a leading international multichannel fashion retailer has been beset by difficulties since he joined from the supermarket chain Wm Morrison in 2010.

A key new distribution centre at Castle Donington has been hit by technical problems, while issues with M&S's new website are understood to be costing it tens of millions of pounds of lost revenue.

Meanwhile, flagship clothing collections have received a mixed response, with some popular products ordered in insufficient quantities and others received poorly by M&S customers.

Ms Russell's email referred to the impact of the difficulties caused by the new internet operation, hinting at tensions within M&S as executives fight to halt flagging sales.

The company's general merchandise division, which comprises clothing and homewares, has reported 11 consecutive quarters of falling like-for-like sales, and analysts predict a 1.5% decline for the first three months.

Tuesday's trading update will come hours before M&S holds its annual meeting - a fixture of the British retail industry calendar - at Wembley Stadium.

The company has not previously tended to disclose its clothing performance as part of the general merchandise division, but did so at its fourth-quarter trading update in April.

The company said then that like-for-like clothing sales had risen by 0.6% but that overall GM sales were down by 0.6%.

Executives are understood to believe that it would now be inconsistent not to repeat that breakdown of figures, although M&S is unlikely to spell out womenswear's performance in such granular detail.

Last week, the company outlined changes to its executive team's responsibilities.

Laura Wade-Gery, who oversees the web operation, was promoted to run the UK store operation, which prompted surprise among analysts given the problems with the relaunched website.

M&S, which has continued to see strong growth in its food business, declined to comment on Ms Russell's email.

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