M&S targeting booming India retail markets

RETAILER Marks & Spencer is looking overseas to try to stem a steady decline in clothing sales, focusing on India to replicate a move towards more stylish fashions that has failed to convince consumers at home.

Britain’s biggest clothing retailer said yesterday it planned to make India its biggest foreign market, increasing its store count there to 80 by 2016 from 36 currently.

“Three years ago our strategy changed and we identified India as a priority market and with our joint venture partner here we are confident of achieving this target,” chief executive Marc Bolland said at the launch of a new flagship store in Mumbai.

Bolland, who joined the firm in 2010 and has built a recovery plan around higher quality and more stylish fashions, has come under increasing pressure from investors as the group’s clothing sales have fallen.

They dropped for the ninth quarter running in the three months to September, while profits in the first half of its financial year shrank nine per cent.

To succeed in India’s apparel market – worth an estimated £24bn a year – M&S has to take on the world’s biggest fashion retailer Inditex and its Zara brand.

According to its latest regulatory filings, M&S has failed to turn a profit in India since 2009. In the year to March 2012, Marks & Spencer Reliance Retail reported a net loss of 25.95m rupees (£258,886).

Over the same period Inditex Trent Retail India – which entered the Indian market as the retailer for Zara almost a decade after M&S launched its first stores there in 2000 – reported profit of 383m rupees.

M&S said sales rose 28 per cent in India last year, declining to give figures.

“Since they entered, Marks & Spencer has had one issue and that is getting their positioning right,” said Harminder Sahani of retail consultancy Wazir Advisors. “They are now trying to become hot and happening and that is a very competitive segment.”