M&S shares slump after online woes

Despite a reasonable Christmas, some analysts are becoming concerned at the time it is taking to turn around the fortunes of the blue-chip retailer
Despite a reasonable Christmas, some analysts are becoming concerned at the time it is taking to turn around the fortunes of the blue-chip retailer

A fresh decline in clothing sales has piled more pressure on Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland after a Christmas beset by online delivery problems.

The retailer’s general merchandise arm, including homewares and fashion, saw a decline in like-for-like sales of 5.8 per cent in the 13 weeks to December 27 - the 14th consecutive quarter the figure has fallen.

Shares slumped by more than four per cent as the update added to signs that investor patience is being tested by the pace of the company’s turnaround.

Mr Bolland admitted that the quarter had been difficult due to an “unsatisfactory performance” in M&S’s e-commerce distribution centre and unseasonal weather conditions.

M&S said good website performance was offset by disruption at its new distribution centre, Leicestershire.

Customers complained that they were not able to make click-and-collect orders for the next day, while deliveries, normally made in three to five days, were taking up to 10.

M&S said it had made progress over the issues, fuelled by Black Friday demand, and that its delivery service was now back to normal.

October and November were also affected by unseasonal weather which M&S said impacted sales across the clothing sector and resulted in a highly promotional market.

“We deliberately held back the level of discounting especially in December. While this had an adverse impact on sales we delivered a good performance on gross margin.”

The merchandise performance is in contrast to John Lewis, which recorded 4.8 per cent like-for-like sales growth for the five weeks to December 27, whilst Next saw better than previously feared total sales growth of 2.9%.

Mr Bolland has come under greater pressure in the last year as the retailer’s performance has stuttered despite turnaround efforts including a £2.3bn investment drive over the last three years.