MARKS and Spencer boss Marc Bolland won a temporary reprieve yesterday after a strong performance across its food business in the run-up to Easter helped offset a seventh consecutive fall in clothing sales.
Like-for-like general merchandise sales, which include clothing and homewares, fell 3.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to 30 March. However, this was offset by a four per cent rise in like-for-like food sales meaning that total like-for-like sales rose 0.6 per cent in the quarter.
M&S said it had held back from discounting but was forced to launch targeted offers after challenging conditions in March sparked intense promotional activity among rivals.
Bolland has been under pressure to revive M&S’s lacklustre performance in clothing and last year shook up its management team, hiring former Jaeger boss Belinda Earl to rejuvenate its womenswear range.
But yesterday the Wellcome Trust, M&S’s seventh biggest shareholder, said it was supportive of the retailer’s strategy and its progress so far.
“What they are trying to do is reverse a couple of decades of underinvestment in the brand...We wouldn’t expect them to be coming out the other side of it yet,” Nick Moakes, head of public markets, said.
Food sales were four per cent higher than a year ago and up from 0.3 per cent for the previous quarter, thanks to Easter falling within its fourth quarter this year.
Trading over the Easter weekend was up 14 per cent, with products such as lamb joints, hot cross buns and chocolate eggs selling well.